Many of China’s major cities are devastated by pollution – but the nation is making efforts to clean up its skies and waterways. The past year has seen factory closures and the creation of an environmental police force in Beijing – and now a national crackdown has revealed that more than 18,000 officials either didn’t take action or didn’t perform well in their jobs to safeguard the environment since 2016. National Environmental Inspection Office deputy director Liu Changgen told reporters, “We will not let the inspection become a passing gust of wind. It needs to keep blowing all the time.”

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Beijing inspectors went to some of the most polluted cities in the world, according to Reuters, to discover thousands of officials had failed in their roles to care for the environment. In one example, sewage from 150,000 people in Jingdezhen was dumped straight into rivers because of a lack of treatment plants. Whole cities were blamed for air pollution spikes, and the ministry attributed issues to administrative failures. According to Liu, “The names of the officials, their jobs and their violations will be reported up the chain of command, who will decide how the officials will be punished.”

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Liu said the next step entails scrutinizing cases from prior inspections to “identify any higher-ranking officials for ill management.”

Northern China has launched a program to transition millions of households from coal to natural gas for heating. Per a 143-page plan released in August, the Ministry of Environmental Protection hopes to slash average concentrations of PM 2.5 particles by more than 15 percent in 28 cities during winter in the smog-afflicted provinces of Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, and Hebei, where Beijing is located. They also aim to reduce average PM 2.5 in Beijing to under 60 micrograms per cubic meter. China’s official air quality standard is 35 micrograms – but the World Health Organization recommends levels shouldn’t be greater than 10 micrograms.

Via Reuters

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