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Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 22:44

Beijing renews air quality assurances

By Associated Press
Beijing renews air quality assurances
Members of the 2022 Evaluation Commission for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and representatives of Beijing's 2022 Winter Olympics Bid Committee walk outside Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Birds' Nest, in Beijing, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

BEIJING - Leaders of Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics said Wednesday the capital's air pollution will be much improved by the time of the games.

The vice president of the bid committee, Zhang Jiandong, told reporters that air quality at the rural sites for the skiing and sliding events was already very good. The problem, he said, was Beijing's urban core where the main athletes' village will be located, along with the indoor arenas for skating, hockey and curling.

Zhang said Beijing's urban center expects a 25 percent reduction in the very small and extremely unhealthy PM2.5 pollutants under a five-year plan begun in 2013 to close coal-fired power plants and other major polluters.

"All in all, we have the confidence, the capability and the appropriate measures to constantly improve air quality in Beijing," Zhang said.

By 2017, Beijing will have reduced the amount of coal burned in the city to 10 million tons from 23 million tons in 2013 and taken whole fleets of old, polluting vehicles off city roads, Zhang said.

The Beijing city government alone is devoting 48 billion yuan (US$7.8 billion) to the effort and plans to close another 200 heavily polluting factories this year in addition to the 400 that were shuttered in 2014, Zhang said. The authorities will also seek to reduce the burning of coal for fuel and heat in small villages on the city's outskirts that produce a disproportionately high impact on air quality because of a total lack of filtering of any sort.

On the second day of a five-day inspection tour, IOC evaluators visited the Beijing suburb of Yanqing where the Alpine skiing and sliding events would be held.

The International Olympic Committee inspection is a key test of Beijing's status as a front-runner in the bid race against Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing is seeking to become the first city to host both the summer and winter games.

The IOC inspectors concluded a visit to Almaty last month, after which Kazakh organizers announced venue changes they say will save more than US$500 million.

The IOC will select the host city on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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