China's clean-air bid faces resistance

China's clean-air bid faces resistance

China's government is facing stiff resistance from sprawling state-owned corporations and local interests in its bid to combat air pollution, following some of the worst air-quality days in recent memory, according to Wall Street Journal.

A consequence of decades of galloping growth, China's deep environmental problems are now seen as a potential obstacle to strong economic development, with concerns ranging from air pollution and water use to increasing consumption of fossil fuels.

China's environmental degradation will be one of the topics at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, as part of a broader conversation on reform needed to keep the world's No. 2 economy humming.   

Growing evidence suggests China's programs to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants-traditionally a major source of its massive pollution problems-have had some success. But that is being partly undermined by rapidly rising industrial output, such as coal-fueled steel production, and lagging fuel standards for China's ballooning numbers of cars and trucks. In addition, analysts say emission goals that target specific pollutants aren't enough to stem wider air-quality problems.  

"The potential of reduction for power plants is small," said Zhao Yu, who researches atmospheric pollutants at Nanjing University. If the government doesn't now pay attention to industrial and other sources of pollution, "overall emissions will continue to grow."  

Finding and tamping down pollution sources has become an imperative for China, a nation has to deal with an increasingly pollution-conscious public without undermining economic growth. The problem drew national headlines earlier this month when Beijing's levels of PM 2.5-tiny particulate matter harmful to human health exceeded by more than 70 times what the U.S. considers a standard for health.  

On Tuesday, Beijing's acting mayor, Wang Anshun, pledged to remove 180,000 old vehicles from the roads and replace dirty coal-burning boilers in some Beijing homes, among efforts aimed at drawing down major air pollutants by 2% this year, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.  

Over the long term, drawing down emissions will require costly upgrades to industrial facilities and oil refineries, measures resisted by state-owned companies unable to pass costs on to consumers and local governments that depend on industrial output for revenue.  

China's two largest refiners-China Petrochemical Corp., known as Sinopec Group, and PetroChina Co. 601857.SH -0.11%-both defend their environmental records, with Sinopec saying it has spent billions of dollars upgrading refineries. PetroChina said it complies with national quality requirements. A number of steelmakers didn't respond to requests for comment.  

Handling China's state-owned companies big and small will be a challenge to China’s clean-air effort.