China gets tough on smog offenders

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China has slapped millions of dollars worth of fines on alleged offenders for violating anti-pollution rules, according to state media.

HONG KONG (CNN) – China has slapped millions of dollars worth of fines on alleged offenders for violating anti-pollution rules, according to state media.

The move comes as large swaths of the country are blanketed in dangerous, thick smog.

Some 24 cities issued the first “red alerts” for pollution of 2017 on Tuesday, according to Xinhua.

Red alerts are the highest of the four-tiered pollution warning system used by mainland China. Authorities often take steps to limit smog, like banning high-polluting vehicles from the road, when red alerts are in effect.

China has taken significant steps to tackle pollution and climate change in recent years, from limiting coal production to signing last year’s Paris climate change accords.

The government’s recently introduced temporary measures in order to try to as the “airpocalypse,” and now appears to be policing them.

It’s also cracking down on violators and lax enforcers.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has punished more than 500 Chinese companies and around 10,000 car-owners for alleged violations, according to Xinhua.

China has also “held accountable” 2,682 officials for failing to enforce pollution efforts, Xinhua reported. About $35 million worth of fines had been levied, it said.

It’s not clear if the fines were just slapped on government workers or also on companies.

Winter is typically the most polluted season in China, as the country burns more coal to power heaters. And cold air inversions during the winter can also trap the smog lower to the surface.

This recent bout of heavy smog began in mid-December, covering an area roughly the size of the United States.

On New Year’s Day, the smog in Beijing at one point exceeded the maximum level of 500 on the Air Quality Index, according to the US Embassy in Beijing, which tracks air quality.

Smog levels in Beijing dropped below “Hazardous” on Tuesday to “Very Unhealthy,” according to the Embassy’s 6-tier air quality guide.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection says the pollution is clear by the end of Thursday, Xinhua reported.