China Waging ‘Unprecedented’ Pollution Crackdown

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By Michael Standaert

Large state-owned businesses, local governments and thousands of small private enterprises have been implicated in an unusually public pollution crackdown in China in recent months.

What started with inspections in the Hebei region around heavily polluted Beijing—and where 176,000 small businesses could be forced to close by the end of September—was extended to all four major municipalities and 10 provinces as of Aug. 2.

“This is unprecedented for the central government to go this far,” Ma Jun, director of the Institute for Public & Environmental Affairs, told Bloomberg BNA, pointing to inspection reports being publicly released. “Basically what you have is an open document highly critical of many local and city governments.”

Ma, one of the country’s leading environmentalists whose institute has been a force in pushing for transparency regarding business pollution, also noted that state-owned companies including China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) were being singled out in these announcements, when they might have been reprimanded behind closed doors in the past.

Sinopec and the other state-owned companies contacted by Bloomberg BNA had no immediate comment.

During the first half of 2017, Beijing had 99 days in which the city’s air quality conformed with government regulations—eight days fewer than last year, according to multiple news reports. However, levels of sulfur dioxide, which can come from vehicle exhausts, fell by 15 percent during that period.

‘The Stakes are Getting Higher’

“Companies without proper environmental performance are now in quite big or potentially big trouble,” Ma said. “For a long time the cost of violation was low, but the stakes are getting higher.”

In recent years, China has begun to link environmental performance with job promotions for government officials.

Pollution reports have been released this year in Beijing, Tianjin, Chongqing and Shanghai municipalities, and the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Liaoning, Gansu, Hunan, Anhui, Guizhou and Hubei.

The government said the inspections will continue nationwide.

Illegal Coal Mining

Among the specifics: Hubei province in central China, where air pollution has been a major problem, must halt all coal-production within two years; Shanghai and Chongqing must move their dirtiest industries to industrial parks away from drinking water sources; and more than 1,000 unlicensed businesses in Beijing’s Daxing District were ordered closed.

As part of its investigation, the central government said local officials in Hunan province failed to properly handle environmental violations linked to China Minmetals since 2013.

And Gansu province must clean up a massive illegal coal mining operation discovered three years ago in the Qilian Mountains national nature reserve, and led by China Kingho Energy Group.

Volatile Organic Compounds

State-owned companies ordered to curb air pollution from volatile organic compounds include Beijing Yanshan Petrochemical Co., Dagang Petrochemical Co., Tianjin Petrochemical Co., Sinopec, Shanghai Petrochemical Co., Ltd., and Shanghai Gaoqiao Petrochemical Corp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The Ministry of Environmental Protection announcement is available, in Chinese, at http://www.mep.gov.cn/gkml/hbb/qt/201707/t20170725_418448.htm

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