China's Shanxi rolls out regional environmental checks, mills cut output

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s major coal-producing province of Shanxi is carrying out regional environmental checks ahead of intensified central inspections next month, according to a statement from a local government in the province and industrial sources.

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“Inspectors must keep high standards and not let violators pass the surprise checks,” said a statement from the environmental bureau of Luliang city, adding that anyone who is found forging emission data will be given a heavier punishment.

Seventy inspectors in Luliang have been dispatched to carry out checks up until Aug. 19. The Beijing-lead inspections are slated to start in Shanxi province from Aug. 20.

An official from the Luliang environmental bureau told Reuters a meeting was held by the Shanxi provincial government several days ago that gathered representatives from all cities to discuss the regional checks.

Shanxi’s environmental department, however, declined to comment on the meeting.

A steel mill in Changzhi, another city in Shanxi, confirmed that there are environmental checks in its area as well, and said steel firms have cut production during the checks.

“We have shut 30 percent of our capacity since the inspection started, and we don’t know how long the curbs will last,” said a manager at the steel mill, state-owned Shougang Changzhi Steel Co Ltd, a joint venture of Shougang Group.

The manager declined to be named as he is not authorized to talk to media. Other Shougang Changzhi representatives could not be reached for comment. The mill has an annual capacity of 3.75 million tonnes.

Changzhi city also declined to comment.

Last month, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said it will roll out a new round of checks from June this year to April next year.

Shanxi province, which accounted for 5 percent of the country’s total steel output and 25 percent of coal output last year, has also been added to a list of “key” areas where pollution needed to be brought under control.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Tom Hogue