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China environment minister urges crackdown on steel mills' illegal production

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, March 12 (Reuters) - China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) urged top steelmaking city Tangshan to severely crack down on violations of atmospheric environment rules after it found four steel mills failed to implement production curbs during heavy pollution.

Tangshan government had issued a second-level pollution alert on March 8, urging heavy industrial companies such as steelmakers and coking plants to cut production accordingly.

However, an inspection team led by Huang Runqiu, the minister of MEE, had found on Thursday that a stainless steel producer belonging to HBIS Group, plus Tangshan Jinma Steel Group and two other mills, were producing at high rates during the pollution alert and had falsified production records.

“We must deal with it in according with law with a zero-tolerance attitude,” the MEE cited Huang in a statement published on late Thursday, adding that suspected crimes will be transferred to the public security department.

China has pledged to cut its crude steel output in 2021 from a record 1.06 billion tonnes it churned out last year to reduce carbon emissions. The steel sector accounts for 15% of China’s total emissions, topping all other manufacturing categories.

“Steel companies are the main body responsible for air pollution...(they) should not just focus on performance and leave pollution to local people,” said Huang.

The minister also asked local government to eliminate outdated capacity and said the MEE will guide companies to improve their pollution control levels.

The most-traded iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange has slumped over 5% so far this week on concerns of tighter production controls. (Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Min Zhang in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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