Why China’s Attempts to Curb Air Pollution are Facing Resistance

Why China’s Attempts to Curb Air Pollution are Facing Resistance
Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像
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According to a report by Caixin earlier this month, 33 incidents of industry obstructions occurred in more than half the localities under inspection since April.

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Government environmental inspectors are facing obstructions including temporary detention and stall tactics from industries in northern China as the country attempts to clamp down on air pollution.

According to a report by Caixin earlier this month, 33 separate incidents of industry obstructions occurred in more than half of the 28 urban localities under inspection since April.

On July 5, private security posed as local law enforcement in an attempt to detain inspectors sent to investigate a steel pipe firm in Qingxian Industrial Park in Hebei Province, where they were held up for approximately 80 minutes.

Authorities later detained the company’s manager and two other staff for obstructing the inspections. If charged, they could face up to three years for forcibly obstructing government environmental inspections. Companies that refuse to comply with inspection procedures can be fined up to RMB 200,000 (US$29,574).

This was not an isolated incident: one day earlier inspectors in Shijiazhuang were locked inside a vehicle for over 20 minutes when a furniture company refused to undergo testing. In April, government inspectors were locked inside an inspection site in Jinan City for over an hour. In other cases, inspectors had their identification badges confiscated.

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection announced this April that it would deploy 5,600 inspectors alone to Beijing, Tianjin and 26 smaller cities known as the Jing-Jin-Ji area in an effort to curb pollution and improve the region’s notoriously noxious air.

This month the ministry released statistics showing that for the first half of 2017, the amount of particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the Jing-Jin-Ji region had increased 14 percent compared to the same period in 2016. It noted however that PM 2.5 levels in Beijing proper had dropped 29 percent in June year on year.

Zhang Yeqiao, a deputy captain of an inspection team from Hubei Province told Caixin that relative to the more than 10,000 companies under inspection, 33 incidents of obstruction "did not amount to much."

He instead decried the lack of coordination between inspectors and local law enforcement in order to safeguard their personal safety, saying that there was no reason for inspectors to be detained for over an hour.

One unidentified former inspector said that most of the violators were “desperate” owners of smaller factories that had built their livelihoods by taking on multiple loans and could not afford cleaner infrastructure and equipment.

“With the current economic downturn and when a factory inspector is coming to shut down your plant, you might get desperate,” the former inspector said, adding that a lack of public awareness and prioritizing the exacting of fines were creating “policy contradictions.”

A report last month found that over 70 percent of businesses inspected in northern China had failed to meet air pollution standards. Thousands of companies, from varying industries, were found to be failing emission standards, lacked proper certificates or were established in unauthorized locations.

China is party to the Paris Agreement in an effort to reduce global carbon emissions to offset climate change and its leaders have declared a “war on pollution.” Coal production in regions surrounding Beijing, however, continues to emit harmful air pollutants.

Editor: Edward White