Local governments in eight cities in northeast China's Liaoning Province have been fined a total of 54.2 million yuan (8.9 million U.S. dollars) for air pollution, the provincial department of environment protection said Tuesday.
The fines, the first the provincial agency has imposed on lower-level governments, send a clear signal that the provincial government is becoming more serious about tackling air pollution.
The tough penalties come as severely polluted air has become a main source of complaints and frustration over health concerns among urban residents.
Choking smog attracted wide attention again last week as it blanketed 100 cities across more than half the country. Many rushed to buy face masks and air purifiers to ward it off, and primary and middle schools in the eastern city of Nanjing were even forced to close for two days.
According to a regulation which went into effect last year, the Liaoning provincial government evaluates 14 cities on indicators of PM10 (particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter), sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Shenyang, capital of Liaoning, was ordered to pay a fine of 34.6 million yuan. Seven other cities, including Dalian and Anshan, were fined 19.6 million yuan.
Zhu Jinghai, head of the provincial department of environment protection, said all the fines would be spent in the fight against severe air pollution.
Decades of breakneck economic growth, the coal-dominated energy mix and lax environmental law enforcement are blamed for the prominent pollution in Liaoning and other parts of China.
The public hailed a circular released Monday on improving the work evaluations of local Party and government leadership and officials, which could lead to greener and more balanced growth.
The circular said Chinese officials should reduce their obsession with economic growth and focus more on people's livelihoods and the environment.
"The circular calls for quality economic growth, a departure from the old extensive growth mode," said a netizen named "Kanshazishadoukan" on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblogging service. "It lays out targeted and forceful measures, and I hope the measures will be fully carried out," the microblogger said.