Chinese resource-exhausted cities face more severe environmental pollution problems than other cities. In addressing these problems, the way local officials (usually senior party and government leaders) operate is very important, as their focus on political achievements may complicate how they manage environmental pollution in these cities. On the one hand, the traditional Gross Domestic Product-based quest for political achievement may lead top leaders to de-emphasize environmental pollution. On the other hand, changes made in 2003 to the way the performance of Chinese officials is evaluated have encouraged some local senior party and government leaders to pay more attention to environmental problems. Based on this, we analyze the relationship between political incentives and environmental pollution by applying the 2004–2014 panel data from 37 resource-exhausted cities. The findings reveal that firstly, among the factors which impact the environmental pollution of resource-exhausted cities, investment in fixed assets, foreign direct investment, industrial structure, per-capita education expenditure, and population density do not have a significant impact, thus indicating that local openness levels, the degree of industrial upgrading, and local investment in fixed assets are not the key variables in environmental pollution control. Secondly, the extent to which officials vie for political achievement affects environmental pollution in resource-exhausted cities. This depends upon whether the officials are municipal party secretaries or mayors; the former play a greater dynamic role in environmental pollution and have stronger robustness than the latter. The conclusion verifies both the existing authority structure of China and its effectiveness in the control of environmental pollution of resource-exhausted cities. That is to say, in contrast to the principles of the party committees, the mayors are in a subordinate position and often fail to fully and effectively exercise their functions. Accordingly, we point out that the selection of municipal party secretaries, rather than mayors, is particularly important in coming to terms with local environmental pollution.
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