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Officials called to account for smog

Tian Xuefei/Zhou Huiying
Updated: Nov 29,2017 7:02 AM     China Daily

On Nov 28, the Ministry of Environmental Protection summoned officials from Heilongjiang’s four major cities-Harbin, Jiamusi, Shuangyashan and Hegang-and its Commission of Rural Affairs to Beijing, urging them to vigorously take up the task of preventing pollution in winter.

The ministry also notified them of their poor or unsatisfactory performance in environmental protection in past months.

In September, the ministry conveyed to the officials the desire of the central government to reduce air pollution in Heilongjiang, but it did not achieve clear results.

“According to the inspection team dispatched to the province, there are multiple problems,” said Liu Changgen, deputy director of the national environmental inspection office. “In some areas, the governments didn’t devote sufficient effort to the comprehensive utilization of crop stalks, and the problems associated with burning of crop stalks is still serious across a wide area.”

According to the commission, 60.4 percent of crop stalks in the province were disposed of in environmentally friendly ways in 2016, such as for biofuel or to generate electricity. The ratios in two places-Jiamusi’s Fujin and Tongjiang counties-were reported at 59.8 and 57.5 percent, respectively.

But an inspection team’s spot checks in those two counties found that the utilization ratios were actually only 12 and 10.6 percent respectively.

The provincial government banned the burning of crop stalks between Oct 11 and Nov 5 across the province, but between Oct 18 and 25, satellites found a substantial number of burning sites-in Harbin (843), Jiamusi (2,910), Shuangyashan (1,205) and Hegang (471). In Harbin, the number of sites was more than five times that of the same period last year; Shuangyashan had 20 times more sites, according to the ministry’s Satellite Environment Center. Jiamusi nearly doubled, and Hegang more than tripled.

The burning of crop stalks has become a significant factor in air pollution in the province, the inspectors said.

“In addition, the emergency measures to meet severe air pollution seem to have been taken as a mere formality,” inspection official Liu said. “The illegal dust emissions at some companies are still serious.”

For example, the cities of Harbin and Jiamusi didn’t launch emergency measures in time, even though the meteorological departments had forecast heavy smog, the ministry said.

In the capital, Harbin, the inspection team found more than 100 companies in violation of environmental standards.

The commission and the four cities were ordered to provide implementation plans within 20 days to the ministry and the provincial government.

Li Shirun, deputy director of the Heilongjiang commission, promised: “As a responsible department, we will come to grips with the existing problems and engage in profound reflection. The provincial government is making a three-year plan to manage the crop stalks. We should keep the pressure on ourselves to control air pollution.”