* Northern China in throes of air pollution crisis
* Plaintiff seeks compensation for residents of Shijiazhuang
* Chinese have right to appeal against smog -government aide
(Adds government comment)
By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING, Feb 25 A man in a smog-ridden northern
city has become the first person in China to sue the government
for failing to curb air pollution, a state-run newspaper
reported on Tuesday.
China's north is suffering a pollution crisis, with the
capital Beijing itself shrouded in acrid smog. Authorities have
introduced anti-pollution policies and often pledged to clean up
the environment but the problem has not eased.
Li Guixin, a resident of Shijiazhuang, capital of the
northern province of Hebei, submitted his complaint to a
district court asking the city's Municipal Environmental
Protection Bureau to "perform its duty to control air pollution
according to the law", the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said.
He is also seeking compensation from the agency for
residents for the choking pollution that has engulfed
Shijiazhuang, and much of northern China, this winter.
"The reason that I'm proposing administrative compensation
is to let every citizen see that amid this haze, we're the real
victims," Li was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
It was unclear whether the court would accept Li's lawsuit.
His lawyer, Wu Yufen, declined to comment, telling Reuters
"this information is quite sensitive". Officials of the court
could not be reached for comment.
Chinese citizens have the right to appeal through legal
means and the lawsuit reflects increasing environmental
awareness among the public, said Cheng Gang, a chief engineer of
the Shijiazhuang environmental protection bureau, according to a
state news agency Xinhua report on Tuesday.
Li said he had spent money on face masks, an air purifier
and a treadmill to get indoor exercise in December when the
pollution was particularly severe.
"Besides the threat to our health, we've also suffered
economic losses, and these losses should be borne by the
government and the environmental departments because the
government is the recipient of corporate taxes, it is a
beneficiary," he said.
The government has invested in clean-air projects and
empowered courts to mete out stiff penalties for infringements
but enforcement has been patchy at the local level, where
authorities often depend on taxes paid by polluting industries.
The National Meteorological Center has raised its smog alert
for northern and central China, with a heavy haze expected for
another two days, state news agency Xinhua said.
Beijing has been draped in stinking smog for more than a
week and in an effort to cut pollution, 147 industrial companies
in the capital had cut or suspended production as of Tuesday,
according to Xinhua.
City residents are growing angry and alarmed.
"Of course, on days where pollution levels reach or even
exceed the scale, we are very concerned and we have to see this
as a crisis," Bernhard Schwartlander, the World Health
Organization (WHO) representative in China, told Reuters.
"There's now clear evidence that, in the long term, high
levels of air pollution can actually also cause ... lung
cancer," he said.
Hebei, a major industrial region surrounding Beijing, has
some of the most polluted cities in the world's most populous
country. Shijiazhuang routinely recorded "beyond index"
measurements of polluting "particulate matter" in early 2013.
The China Academy of Sciences identified the province as a
major source of noxious smog that hung over Beijing a year ago.
The government said in an action plan for Hebei in September
that it would ban new projects in certain industries, close
outdated steel and cement facilities and slash coal use.
The province has promised to cut total steel capacity by 86
million tonnes, about 40 percent of last year's production, by
2020. Official data suggests that is starting to happen.
(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan, Natalie Thomas and Paul
Carsten; Editing by Mark Heinrich)