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China begins new environmental probe in smog-prone Hebei province

China begins new environmental probe in smog-prone Hebei province
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 February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic/File Photo -
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Petar Kudjundzic(Reuters)
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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China has launched a new audit into environmental compliance in the northern industrial province of Hebei surrounding Beijing, as it looks to ensure officials are not dodging efforts to combat pollution, official media said on Friday.

China launched countrywide audits in 2015 to help ensure compliance with efforts to curb pollution, with many local authorities accused of turning a blind eye to pollution in order to guarantee growth and employment.

Hebei, which produces a quarter of China’s steel and is responsible for much of the smog drifting over the capital, was the test site for the first probe.

Teams of inspectors led by former government ministers and other retired senior politicians were sent to each region and given the authority to inspect any site without prior warning and summon any official for formal interviews.

Nationally, around 130,000 violations and failures of governance were investigated, leading to 1.43 billion yuan ($201 million) in fines.

The latest Hebei audit began in the cities of Baoding and Langfang on Oct. 10 and will be extended to other cities, including Shijiazhuang and Handan, in mid-November, according to the China Environmental News, an environment ministry publication.

Inspectors would also look at how officials in non-environmental roles carried out their environmental responsibilities, the paper said.

The environment ministry said in July it would also extend probes to two giant state-owned conglomerates, Minmetals and ChemChina.

Hebei has already been under pressure to curb industrial output over the past month in order to reduce air pollution across China’s coastal regions.

It will also be subject to tougher smog control measures from now until March 2020, with some cities expected to reduce concentrations of lung-damaging small particles known as PM2.5 by up to 7% from last year, according to a draft plan.

($1 = 7.1015 yuan)

(Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin)

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