SHANGHAI (Reuters) - As many as 173 Chinese steel enterprises were found to have violated the country's environmental rules during recent nationwide investigations into the industry, the environment ministry said on Monday.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in July that it had set up dedicated inspection teams to determine whether the country's giant steel sector was meeting state technology and emission standards.
After visiting a total of 1,019 steel enterprises across the country, the inspectors found that 173 firms had broken the rules, with 62 firms involved in illegal construction and 35 exceeding state emission limits, according to the ministry's official publication, China Environmental News.
Worried by the social and political impact of pollution, China has vowed to crack down on lawbreaking companies and the local governments that protect them. It has also promised to use tougher environmental standards to help shut as much as 100-150 million tonnes of surplus steel capacity over the next five years.
The ministry said 23 of the offending firms had been asked to cut production, while another 29 had been shut down temporarily in order to "rectify" their problems. Fines totaling 18.9 million yuan ($2.8 million) have been imposed and three officials have been detained.
The paper singled out Xinyi Huada Steel in eastern China's Jiangsu province, saying the local government had repeatedly ignored requests from environmental regulators to close the firm down for producing illegally.
As part of its war on pollution, China's traditionally underpowered environment ministry was this year granted new powers to send inspection teams to local regions without prior warning, and was also given the authority to summon senior provincial officials to explain their conduct.
During a tour of Hebei province, China's biggest steel producing region as well as its biggest polluter, inspectors found that local steel firms had illegally expanded capacity and engaged in "fraudulent practices".
The ministry has called on the regions to continue to pay special attention to the steel sector, to crack down hard on illegal behavior and to cooperate with local government efforts to close down surplus capacity in the industry, China Environmental News said.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin)