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Smog Police: New Beijing Force Created To Tackle Air Pollution

A foreign tourist and a child wearing protection masks walk through Tiananmen Square in Beijing as the city was blanketed by heavy smog last week.
Andy Wong
A foreign tourist and a child wearing protection masks walk through Tiananmen Square in Beijing as the city was blanketed by heavy smog last week.

Beijing is launching a new police force aimed at tackling its persistent smog problem.

This comes after a month of particularly severe air quality that left the capital and dozens of other Chinese cities blanketed in thick, brown smog.

The city's acting mayor, Cai Qi, announced over the weekend that the new environmental police force will crack down on polluters such as "open-air barbeques, garbage incineration, biomass burning, [and] dust from roads," according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. He didn't offer any more specifics about the squad.

Cai also announced other measures to tackle the persistent problem, including closing the city's only coal-fired plant. In 2017, "coal consumption will be cut by 30 percent to less than 7 million tonnes" and "another 300,000 high-polluting old vehicles will be phased out," the news agency reports.

Cai said the city also plans to shutter 500 factories and upgrade 2,560 others, according to the news agency.

"I totally understand the public's concerns and complaints over air pollution," Cai said, admitting that he checks the air quality index "first thing in the morning."

China's environmental problems are exacerbated by difficulties enforcing regulations. "China's ministry of the environment said during last week's hazardous smog, inspection teams found factories resuming production, despite being given stop-work orders," NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Beijing.

Rob explains the main drivers of China's air pollution:

"China's air pollution is mainly caused by coal-burning power plants and inefficient vehicles. While the government tries to answer public calls to address the issue, it's also addressing the challenge of an economic slowdown and maintaining growth."

The environment minister, Chen Jining, said in a statement that he personally "felt guilty" and "wanted to reproach himself" about the smog. He added that it made people feel anxious.

Last week, China issued its first-ever red alert for fog in some northern and eastern regions, according to a ministry statement. As The Two-Way reported, some 72 cities were under pollution alerts.

The pollution has deadly consequences — as we reported, the World Health Organization said 1,032,833 deaths in China in 2012 were attributable to air quality. That's the highest in the world.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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