July 7, 2008

China to Suspend Some Heavy Industry As Games Near

By Jim Yardley

With Beijing struggling to clear polluted skies before the Olympics in August, the nearby industrial port of Tianjin has ordered 40 factories to suspend some operations for two months as part of a broader effort to improve air quality during the Games, state media reported.

The planned shutdowns in Tianjin, about 110 kilometers, or 70 miles, southeast of Beijing, are one piece of a regional plan that is expected to bring temporary factory closures or slowdowns across a large swath of northern China during the Games. As yet, few details are known about exactly which factories might close, or when, so the announcement in Tianjin offers a window into one aspect of the plan.

Beijing's air quality remains a major concern for the Games as the city continues to struggle with pollution, despite a $20 billion government cleanup campaign. Beijing is also a victim of its neighborhood: pollution blows in from surrounding regions, which are dotted with coal mines, coal-fired power plants, steel mills, cement factories and other clusters of heavy industry.

The Olympic opening ceremony is Aug. 8, and meteorologists have said that officials must begin closing factories a few weeks in advance to make a difference. The suspensions in Tianjin will begin on July 25 and continue until Sept. 30, after the conclusion of the Paralympics in Beijing, according to Xinhua, the country's official news agency.

Tianjin is a host city for the Olympic soccer competition, and work at 26 construction sites near the city's Olympic stadium will be suspended.

Meanwhile, one of the busiest steel centers in China is ordering 267 firms to shut down operations by July 8, according to Reuters, which cited government and industry sources.

The city of Tangshan, about 150 kilometers from Beijing, is closing 66 smaller steel mills, coking operations, cement factories and smaller power generators, the agency said. The companies could reopen only on an unspecified date after undergoing an environmental review.

In recent days, rainfall in Beijing has been unusually heavy. When it has not rained, the skies have been clotted with haze. But the weather Sunday brought good news: the first truly blue skies in Beijing in many days.

The city will begin alternate-day driving restrictions on July 20 to ease traffic and reduce pollution. By then, experts say, more temporary factory shutdowns are expected to be announced elsewhere in the region.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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