Beijing's new air pollution steps get poor reception

BEIJING (REUTERS) - New plans to reduce air pollution in Beijing fell flat on Tuesday, judging by initial online reaction, as the capital's mayor unveiled measures to ease the chronic problem that has triggered growing public anger.

The smoggy metropolis' already notorious air pollution hit a record earlier this month, with pollution 30-45 times above recommended safety levels, blanketing Beijing in a thick, noxious cloud that grounded flights and forced people indoors.

The issue has caused widespread public outrage, alarming the ruling Communist Party which values stability above all else, and has so far failed to rein in pollution despite repeated pledges to get tough.

Speaking at the opening of the annual session of the city's legislature, Beijing mayor Wang Anshun said the government would take 180,000 old vehicles off the road this year and control the "excessive" growth of new car sales.

The heating systems of 44,000 old, single-story homes and coal-burning boilers in the city centre will also be replaced with clean energy systems, Mr Wang said in a speech carried live on state television.

"We will speed up the construction of a beautiful city with blue skies, green earth and clean water," he said.

However, comments on China's popular Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo suggest Mr Wang will have his job cut out for him convincing people the government is finally serious about tackling pollution.

"These plans are just dreams," wrote one user.

Others said the phasing out of old cars would make little difference in a city where about 250,000 new cars hit the road every year, albeit with supposedly higher emissions standards.

"These 'old cars' are what the ordinary people drive. You people can only dare talk about this subject when you start phasing out all the cars officials drive," wrote another user.

Mr Wang added that Beijing would cut the density of major air pollutants by 2 per cent this year and improve the monitoring and public release of information about air pollution.

"We will proactively push for the use of new energy-saving technologies and products and promote green, low carbon production and lifestyles," he said.

Pollution levels in Beijing regularly exceed 500 on an index that measures particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers. A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

This winter's pollution has been so severe that even usually pliant state media has criticised government inaction, partly because it can't be hidden from the public unlike other sensitive subjects such as high-level corruption.

Smoke from factories and heating plants, winds blowing in from the Gobi Desert and fumes from millions of vehicles can combine to blanket the city in a pungent shroud for days.

English-speaking residents sometimes call the city "Greyjing" or"Beige-jing". Other major cities, particularly in northern China, have experienced similar problems.

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