The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) this week announced China's severest emission control policy for industries to date, and an environmentalist told the Global Times Wednesday it is time decision-makers steer a firm course for compromise between economic growth and pollution reduction.
The MEP said during a working conference Tuesday that given unprecedented pressures on the atmospheric environment, it has decided to place special emission controls on heavy-polluting industries such as thermal plants, steel mills, petrochemical refineries, cement factories, nonferrous metal mills, and chemical plants, as well as coal-fire industrial boilers in 47 major cities and municipalities, the Beijing-based Economic Information Daily reported Wednesday.
As urbanization progresses, vehicle ownership increases and overall coal consumption continues to rise, "the government must implement strict air pollution control measures" to protect people's health and the environment, the newspaper cited the ministry as saying. Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian presided over the conference.
For coal-fire boilers in thermal plants, the maximum allowed sulfur dioxide emission in the specially controlled regions is halved to 50 milligrams per cubic meter, from the 100 milligrams per cubic meter that is currently permitted in most of the country, said the report.
The MEP's public relations department told the Global Times Wednesday that further details concerning the special control policy will be announced in early March.
Sulfur dioxide is a major source of atmospheric particulate matter with diameter under 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), and contributes to smog.
Many parts of China, especially North China, have suffered from persistent, vicious smog since the beginning of the year, which may have prompted more stringent measures from policymakers, said Yang Fuqiang, a Beijing-based senior advisor on climate and energy at US non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The policymakers did not want to listen to our recommendations before, because they did not see the harm the pollution brings," Yang said. "Now may be a time for change."
Beijing and Tianjin, combined with adjacent Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong provinces, alone burn nearly 1.1 billion tons of coal a year, more than the yearly national total for the whole US, Yang said, citing data from China's National Bureau of Statistics.
Even though most individual coal-fire plants meet national emission standards, the overall coal consumption is too big, Yang said, noting that "the appearance of massive smog reveals problems in the national energy structure."
As for cars, it may not be cost-effective for domestic carmakers to produce cleaner vehicles just for Beijing, said Zeng Zhiling of LMC Automotive Asia Pacific Forecasting. Beijing has China's highest emission standard.
Upgrading costs will drop if the standard is made nationwide, Zeng said.