SHANGHAI Northern China's Hebei, home to seven of the country's 10 smoggiest cities, has pledged to double up its efforts to tackle hazardous pollution following an environment ministry report accusing the province of failing to rein in law-breaking industries.
Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing and is responsible for about a quarter of China's total steel output, is one of the front lines in a "war on pollution" designed to head off growing public disquiet about the environmental impact of three decades of untrammelled industrial growth.
In May, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said steelmakers and coal-fired power generators in Hebei were violating state guidelines by continuing to expand, while some local firms were also involved in "fraudulent practices" aimed at circumventing pollution rules.
The ministry identified a total of 47 problems during a two month inspection tour of the province beginning at the end of last year, and said the environment in some districts of Hebei had continued to deteriorate.
In a detailed response published on its official website (www.hebei.gov.cn), the Hebei government said late on Tuesday that it would work to "put environmental protection in a more prominent position" and set up an implementation team to rectify the problems highlighted in the MEP report.
It promised to dismiss and punish local government officials responsible for illegal steel production and step up efforts to replace the consumption of coal with cleaner natural gas.
The province promised in 2014 to cut coal consumption by 40 million tonnes and shed as much as 60 million tonnes of steelmaking capacity by 2017.
It also aims to cut concentrations of small airborne particles known as PM2.5 to an average of around 67 micrograms per cubic meter over the period, down from 77 micrograms in 2015.
According to official 2015 data, seven of China's 10 smoggiest cities were located in Hebei, the same as 2014 despite an economic downturn and a campaign to cut industrial capacity.
(Reporting by David Stanway)