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In China’s war on bad air, government decision to release data gives fresh hope

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BEIJING — Communist China is hardly known for its transparency. So when environmental groups appealed to the government last year to disclose official data on air pollution, they were not expecting much.

‘‘Way beyond our expectations, the government actually said yes,’’ said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. ‘‘I am quite amazed.’’

Since Jan. 1, the central government has required 15,000 factories — including influential state-run enterprises — to publicly report details on their air emissions and water discharges in real time, an unprecedented degree of disclosure that is shedding light on the who, what, when and where of China’s devastating environmental problems.

The reporting requirement is part of a striking turnaround by China’s government.

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