Smog-Fighters Target Rural China’s Coal Stoves
(Beijing) – Chinese leaders looking for a new way to breathe easier plan to prohibit the use of high-sulfur coal for home heating among farmers and poor families in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Province region.
Local officials in these neighboring jurisdictions, which together form a chronically smoggy region about the size of the U.S. state of Minnesota, plan to bar small-scale use of high-sulfur coal by December 31, 2017, according to local officials. The prohibition is likely to affect some 600,000 households in the capital alone.
Beijing plans to eliminate all coal burning in most of the city by 2017, and help affected households install electric heaters or other forms of low- or no-emissions heating by 2020. Meanwhile, the Hebei government said it wants 90 percent of the province’s household heating to rely on high-quality, low-emissions coal by 2017. Tianjin has also mapped out plans gradually phase out low-quality coal.
Officials have been working on restrictions in step with orders from Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. Speaking at a central government meeting January 4, Zhang told local governments nationwide to cut wintertime emissions from heaters and stoves that burn coal with high sulfur content.
Zhang’s directive laid the groundwork for goals set in a “government work report” delivered by Premier Li Keqiang to the National People’s Congress in March. Li said the country plans to guarantee “good or excellent” air quality “for 80 percent of the year” in 335 cities across the country within five years.
Beijing’s air quality was rated “good” for only half of 2015, according to the capital’s environmental protection bureau. And the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region was especially smoggy through the winter of 2015-16 – a phenomenon that some environmental experts blamed on coal heaters in older “ping fang,” or one-story, homes common in the region’s rural villages and poor urban neighborhoods.
A recent analysis of Beijing’s air pollution by Peng Yingdeng, a researcher at the Urban Environmental Pollution Control Technology Research Center, a government-affiliated agency in Beijing, found that emissions from the burning of cheap, low-quality coal contributed to 15 percent of the tiny PM2.5 particulate matter choking the city, as well as 10 percent of the nitrogen oxide and 33 percent of the sulfur dioxide in the air.
Peng’s study also pointed fingers at emissions from cars, industries and power plants – well-known sources of air pollution that the government has been working to better control for years with limited success.
Homes and small businesses that burn coal in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei contribute up to half of the air pollution in the region every winter, said Zhao Yingmin, chief engineer at the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Output from these millions of coal stoves and heaters combine to reach those peaks while consuming about 10 percent, or some 36 million tons, of all coal burned in the region annually, he said. Beijing’s consumption alone accounts for some 4 million tons.
Zhao’s conclusions are supported by a study by the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, a government think tank, released in August that focused on the Hebei city of Baoding, southwest of Beijing. The study said the amount of airborne ash and sulfur dioxide emitted by the coal burners that heat households exceeded similar emissions from the area’s industries during the winter of 2013.