COLUMN-China’s pollution steps need bite, will cost money – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.S. – September 18, 2013)

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Clyde Russell is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.

LAUNCESTON, Australia, Sept 18 (Reuters) – China’s new plans to cut coal use and tackle pollution have a sense of deja vu about them, being the latest in a series of measures aimed at improving air quality in the world’s second-largest economy.

But the key question, as always with environmental moves in China, is will they be enforced this time or whether once again regulation will be soft and easily side-stepped by provincial and local governments, or polluting companies.

On the face of it, the measures announced last week on the government’s website seem sensible and achievable, with the key aim to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, which in China is mainly coal, to below 65 percent of total primary energy use by 2017.

This is a relatively modest decline from the 66.8 percent share fossil fuels held in 2012, but once again the devil will be in the detail.

The announced plans include cutting coal consumption, mainly by closing polluting steel mills, factories and smelters, with a target being Hebei province, the largest steel-producing region.

This can be seen as a follow-up to July’s moves to restrain capacity in bloated sectors such as steel and aluminium by setting stricter limits on power consumption and emissions.

While it’s way too early to say whether the new measures will be enforced, many analysts and industry insiders say this time the authorities appear more determined, with curbing pollution a priority for new Premier Li Keqiang.

But scepticism will remain until there is evidence that regulations are being enforced and offenders punished.

A good example of the problems China’s central leadership face in trying to clean up the world’s biggest polluter can be seen in some of the newer coal-fired power plants.

Many of these are fitted with scrubbers – devices that use water spray to remove sulphur dioxide from waste gases. Sulphur dioxide is a major air pollutant and can create acid rain.

The problem is the plant operators aren’t running the scrubbers as this costs money given the energy and water required.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/18/column-russell-china-pollution-idUSL3N0HE07C20130918

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