Lack of long-term pol­lu­tion con­trol be­hind heavy smog

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

With weather con­di­tions ripe for this year ’s heav­i­est smog , res­i­dents in Bei­jing and other cities in North China ex­pected the worst when a red alert was is­sued for five days from last Satur­day to Wed­nes­day. Yet the suf­fo­cat­ing blan­ket of pol­lu­tion that the cap­i­tal has ex­pe­ri­enced in the past has failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize this time thanks to the emer­gency mea­sures taken fol­low­ing the red alert.

The sever­ity of the city’s air pol­lu­tion has been greatly tem­pered with more than 1,000 fac­to­ries sus­pend­ing pro­duc­tion and an al­ter­nat­ing re­stric­tion on pri­vate ve­hi­cles de­pend­ing on whether the last num­ber on the li­cense plate is odd or even. This is the price that has to be paid for the debt that has been ac­cu­mu­lated for a lack of past ef­forts.

But the tem­po­rary strict mea­sures can­not be taken as the fun­da­men­tal way to end air pol­lu­tion. In dire need are ef­forts to elim­i­nate the source of pol­lu­tion for good.

In 2013, the State Coun­cil, China’s Cabi­net, is­sued an action plan to fight against air pol­lu­tion, and a spe­cial fund of 23.94 bil­lion yuan ($3.44 bil­lion) was al­lo­cated from the cen­tral cof­fers to the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Bei­jing, Tian­jin, six prov­inces and the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

The Min­istry of Fi­nance dur­ing its in­spec­tions found it was not un­com­mon for lo­cal govern­ments to have put the funds to uses other than the elim­i­na­tion of pol­lu­tion sources as in­tended. Some of the funds were used to ren­o­vate build­ings or for bonuses.

Such mis­use of the funds, though un­able to draw full blame for the smog’s re­peated re­turn to af­fect vast swathes of north­ern and east­ern China, has weak­ened the will and hin­dered the ef­forts to curb the fre­quency and sever­ity of smog.

It is not a se­cret where the pol­lu­tion comes from, and there are tech­no­log­i­cal means to pre­vent pol­lu­tants of var­i­ous kinds from be­ing dis­charged. But that means an in­crease in pro­duc­tion costs and pos­si­ble loss of jobs.

So the heart of the mat­ter is whether lo­cal of­fi­cials are re­ally com­mit­ted to curb­ing smog. The flout­ing of cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s will and plac­ing of lo­cal eco­nomic growth be­fore ev­ery­thing else should not be tol­er­ated.

It is not clear yet how se­vere a penalty those lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­ers who have mis­used the funds for air pol­lu­tion con­trol will re­ceive. The penalty has to be se­vere enough to de­ter such wrong­do­ing in the fu­ture and change the mind­set of lo­cal of­fi­cials. Oth­er­wise, the red alert will un­doubt­edly re­main the only re­course when­ever smog poses a health threat.

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