Unprecedented and highly visible degraded air quality in China's urban centres has prompted a step change in central government control efforts in recent years. This “War on Air Pollution” has included a mixture of administrative controls, regulatory clampdowns, economic incentives and public education campaigns. A critical constraint on how policies are designed and implemented is the central government's capacity to access accurate cost information, and monitor, evaluate and enforce the policies at subordinate levels of government. We examine in detail the directives and arrangements that underpin China's “War on Air Pollution” at the provincial level, taking Hebei province as a case study. Located upwind of Beijing, Hebei's heavy industries have been a particular focus of the environmental policies. The current approach, which requires highly specific and costly local actions, yet allocates funds centrally, suffers from misaligned incentives and does not address longstanding weaknesses in local policy monitoring, evaluation and enforcement.