'Smog police' to get tough on polluters
China launches environmental police team to enforce laws after dangerous levels of air pollution hit several cities over the New Year
BEIJING: The smog-hit Chinese capital will establish a police force to deal specifically with environmental offences as part of its efforts to clean up its air and crack down on persistent polluters.
The smog police will crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning and dust from roads, Beijing's acting mayor Cai Qi said on Saturday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
"These acts of non-compliance with regulations are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement," Mr Cai told a government meeting.
Nearly three years into its "war on pollution", large swathes of northern China were still engulfed in smog over the New Year.
The dangerous air quality readings in major cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Xian forced many people to stay indoors.
The smog that blanketed cities - disrupting flights, port operations and schools - was caused by increased coal use for winter heating and unfavourable weather conditions.
The central government promised to make greater use of the police and courts to prosecute companies and local officials responsible for exceeding emissions limits.
But while China's environmental legislation has been beefed up, authorities have long struggled to build up the staffing numbers required to enforce laws.
China's continuing reliance on fossil fuels made the fight against pollution difficult, the country's environment minister Chen Jining said on Friday.
He said the six provinces and regions hit hardest by smog over the last month, including Beijing, consume a third of the country's total coal and emit around 30 per cent to 40 per cent of China's major atmospheric pollutants despite accounting for just 7.2 per cent of China's total area.
But he said China would still be able to solve its pollution problems faster than Western countries, including Germany.
"They needed 20 to 40 years to solve it. I believe we will do it faster than they did," Mr Chen said, according to a transcript on the State Council's website.
"We should not lose confidence because of a few days of heavy pollution."
China last week announced it would plough 2.5 trillion yuan (S$519 billion) into renewable power generation by 2020.