Earlier this week, Beijing officials established an Environmental Police Force (EPF) to help address the city’s air pollution crisis. Beijing officials reported that the EPF will deal specifically with environmental offenses as part of an effort to clean up the air and crack down on persistent polluters. Beijing’s acting Mayor, Cai Qi, stated, “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.”
Like many Chinese cities, Beijing was engulfed in a toxic smog over the New Year, forcing many people to stay in doors. The smog which blanketed cities, also disrupted flights, slowed port operations, and forced schools to close. Chinese officials believe the smog was created by increased coal use (for winter heating) and adverse weather conditions.
For bit of perspective, Beijing consumes a third of the country’s total coal, emits around 40 percent of China’s major atmospheric pollutants, and accounts for just 7.2 percent of China’s total area.
The numbers above and the EPF story in general make me think of cities like Las Vegas and states like Texas. It also made me briefly admire Chinese totalitarianism (for half of a nanosecond). While strong environmental policy is key, the enforcement of those policies is often where things can go awry. I personally work with Houston’s Pollution Police and wonder what our air quality would look like if they had more support from Austin and/or DC. Especially now that the city no longer has criminal enforcement authority for its Clean Air Ordinance. With what happened in Houston, in Denton, and with the 85th Texas Legislative Session kicking off this week, one can only wonder what comes next.