China's winter air pollution drive to encompass more cities

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Construction at the site of the former Workers' Stadium is seen on polluted day before the closing session of National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China, March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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BEIJING, Sept 16 (Reuters) - China plans to include more cities in its 2021 winter air pollution campaign, the environment ministry said in a draft on Thursday, as Beijing attempts to clear smog-laden skies.

The campaign was introduced in 2017 and initially focused on 28 key regions, including the capital city Beijing and nearby areas. China is due to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the nearby city of Zhangjiakou in early February, 2022.

The new draft plan covers regions in northern Hebei, northern Shanxi, eastern and southern Shandong and some cities in the southern Henan province, bringing the total to 64.

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China's Ecology and Environment Ministry (MEE) said it will publish monthly air quality data for each region and issue alerts to those who see less progress of improving air quality.

"We will hold regulatory talks with the local government official publicly," the MEE said, adding that officials will be held accountable if found to be tampering with or falsifying emissions data. The draft plan did not detail overall air quality targets.

The campaign, which will run from October to the end of March, is being widened this year to take "the atmospheric environment in autumn and winter and the influence of regional transmission" into consideration, it added.

The MEE will continue to push for the reduction of burning coal use this year, aiming to replace it with natural gas or electricity heating systems at 3.67 million households. It said it would not hike city-gate gas prices at these residences.

The plan also emphasised central government's stand of banning new high-energy consumption and high-emission projects, in particular in industries such as petrochemical, steel, coking, non-ferrous and coal-fired power.

Steel mills in the 64 regions will be ordered to curtail production in the six months, based on their emission levels.

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Reporting by Muyu Xu and Shivani Singh; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alexander Smith

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