December 26, 2017 / 12:53 PM / a year ago

China blasts two provinces for deception in environment fight

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has criticized officials in the industrialized province of Shandong for deceiving authorities to evade capacity cuts in the polluting coal, steel, aluminum and chemical sectors, and slammed another province for lying about closing golf courses.

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from a chimney among houses as new high-rise residential buildings are seen under construction on a hazy day in the city centre of Tangshan, Hebei province in this February 18, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic/File Photo

In a statement late on Tuesday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said Binzhou city, China’s aluminum smelter hub, used fake certificates and false data to win approval for 2.4 million tonnes of new aluminum capacity in 2014.

The environmental watchdog also said Rizhao Steel, a major producer, continued to run a mill with 5.94 million tonnes of capacity after it had been due to shut in 2015.

The ministry said all the issues with Binzhou and Rizhao had been resolved by the end of October this year, but did not give details.

The sharply-worded statement came after the central government dispatched teams of inspectors to Shandong, Jilin, Zhejiang, Hainan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang in August and September. A total of 40,706 incidents of environmental damage were uncovered.

The singling out of companies in a specific province will serve as a warning to officials of the potential consequences of not falling into line with Beijing’s mandated capacity cuts.

Separately, state news agency Xinhua said the northeastern province of Jilin had lied about closing golf courses it was supposed to shut as part of a crackdown on illegal golf courses announced in 2011.

The province had continued to tell the central government it had closed the golf courses when in fact it had not, Xinhua said, citing environmental inspectors.

The government has targeted golf courses to protect farmland and save water resources, and also because they are seen as popular venues for shady deals by corrupt officials.

President Xi Jinping said in October that fighting pollution was one of China’s key tasks through 2020. Beijing has vowed to reduce air pollution across 28 northern cities this winter.

In Shandong, more than 10,000 companies in Shandong were fined a total of 100 million yuan ($15.3 million) by inspectors in August-September, the environment ministry said.

A total of 1,268 officials in the eastern province have been held accountable for cases of environmental damage, the ministry said in the statement, without giving details.

Shandong ranked 18th among 31 provinces and regions in China’s first “green development” index released on Tuesday, which listed regional governments that promote environmentally friendly development.

Local officials in Shandong lack awareness of environmental issues, according to the ministry statement.

The Shandong Environmental Bureau did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

An official at Rizhao Steel said the company had not received any notification from the authorities on any further moves. He declined to be named as he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Apart from shuttering polluting factories, China also plans to roll out nationwide by 2020 a system that forces polluters to repair damage to the environment or pay compensation.

Reporting by Meng Meng, Muyu Xu, Ben Blanchard and Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Ruby Lian in SHANGHAI; Editing by Peter Graff and Richard Pullin

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