Beijing's acting mayor promised to improve the air quality in the city's 16 districts by 2017
Several cities in China were issued red alerts
Officials in Beijing are taking steps toward tackling the city’s long-standing smog problem with the creation of an environmental police force, according to state media.
Spearheaded by Beijing’s acting mayor Mayor Cai Qi, the political crackdown on burning fossil fuels comes amid a flurry of concern over the country’s choking air pollution.
The move came as a cold front Monday brought some relief to Beijingers, with blue skies visible and air quality levels back at “good” after a week of smog.
“Like many of us, I am used to checking the weather and the air quality index (AQI) of Beijing first thing in the morning. I totally understand the public’s concerns and complaints over air pollution,” Cai told reporters Saturday, according to Xinhua.
He vowed to take tougher measures to improve the air quality in the city’s 16 districts in 2017.
The new environmental police would among other things, crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and biomass burning — areas previously overlooked by authorities, Xinhua reported.
“Open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, dust from roads – these acts of non-compliance with regulations are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement,” Cai said.
He did not say when the program would begin.
Last week, nearly 24 cities across China were issued “red alerts,” Xinhua said. Red alerts are the highest of the four-tiered pollution warning system used by mainland China.
When red alerts are in effect, authorities take measures to reduce the air pollution by closing businesses, shutting down factories and banning high-polluting vehicles off the road.
While China has tried to squash smog offenders, enforcement remains a challenge.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection punished more than 500 Chinese companies and around 10,000 car-owners for alleged violations, according to Xinhua.
China has “held accountable” 2,682 officials for failing to enforce pollution efforts, Xinhua reported. About $35 million worth of fines had been levied, the news agency said.
CNN’s Julia Jones, Jennifer Deaton and Josh Berlinger contributed to this report.