Children play on a sled at Yuyuantan Park in the snow Sunday in relatively fresh air. The snow helped to bring down pollution levels in the capital, after PM2.5 levels rose to over 500 again Friday. Photo: Li Hao/GT
New regulations intended to kick in when pollution in Beijing reaches extreme levels will likely be as ineffective as the previous law, environmental experts told the Global Times Sunday.
While the new draft law, issued by Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, is broader in scope and calls for increased fines for those who violate it, it contains many of the same elements as the previous pollution prevention and control regulation issued in 2000, which was enforced lightly or not at all.
"The regulations issued in 2000 are far out of date and needed to be updated. But there are not many changes in these revised ones," said Ma Jun, director with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
He welcomed the main new clause, which states that factories of all sizes will be obliged to post information about their pollution emissions on their website or in other public places.
"I am expecting to have third parties participating in the inspection of their data to earn public trust," said Ma.
The full text of the draft law has been made available for public comment until January 18 on the website of the Beijing Legal Affairs Office.
It stipulates that in times of hazardous pollution, sources, including factories, vehicles, power plants, garbage incinerators, construction sites and even street kebab stalls and restaurants will be subject to shutdowns and restrictions, or face fines.
While the list of polluters is the same as in 2000, those who violate the ban will be subject to higher fines. People who light fires outdoors, including leaves, trash or barbecues, could be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($804).
Transport restrictions could come into effect under conditions of "heavy pollution," however, the draft does not mention a specific pollution level or detail the actual restrictions.
Construction sites could be fined from 10,000 to 100,000 yuan if they ignore the new rules, and the fine for factories will depend on the industry. An oil refinery or coal-burning plant could be fined up to 400,000 yuan.
"But the government should set up meetings for the public to give their feedback about the new draft, instead of just asking them to visit a website [that few people will look at]," said Ma.
Zhang Yuanxun, a professor of resources and environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that a lack of law enforcement will be a problem.
"The punishments enshrined in the regulations are too strict and broad. It will require many more law enforcement officers to ensure its effective implementation," he said.
"The old laws were not enforced, not to mention this new one," he said.
Zhou Rong, climate and energy director of Greenpeace, said that since atmospheric pollution has many sources, as many people as possible should comment on it, because the implications of the regulation are wide-ranging.
"Also, just restricting the local atmospheric pollution would have little contribution to its improvement if there are no changes in the pollution conditions in the surrounding areas [of Beijing]," she said.
Wang Yan, a resident working in international trade, said she thinks the new laws should have been launched already.
"I don't think I'll offer comments on the new regulation since I doubt if my voice will be heard," she said, adding targeting street barbecues is ridiculous.
"They should put more restrictions on factories and government cars, not tiny things like barbecues," she said.
Following the previous week's "beyond index" pollution, last week Beijing saw only two days of relatively low pollution, although still much higher than the World Health Organization's safe limit, before plunging back into severe smoggy conditions on Friday evening. PM2.5 was measured at over 500 micrograms per cubic meter in some areas, said the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center.
Meanwhile, Sunday's early morning snowfall helped temporarily decrease pollution, with PM2.5 at 50 to 70 micrograms per cubic meter.