China�s Real Environmental Problems

Posted November 16, 2009 at 5:34pm

During his state visit to China, President Barack Obama must seize the moment and persuade Chinese leaders to address the nation�s environmental problems. China�s environmental record not only threatens the health and welfare of its children, but also encourages greedy international corporations to close their factories at home and produce more cars, chemicals and steel in Asia. [IMGCAP(1)] Let me be blunt. The president should not lecture the Chinese about global warming. China faces too many real environmental dangers to waste time on a hoax like climate change. Meanwhile, the heavy metals and toxic materials unleashed by Chinese factories that lack even the most basic environmental safeguards pose a clear and present danger to millions of Chinese � especially children. Air pollution alone causes more than 300,000 premature deaths a year in China.We must encourage Obama to deliver a no-nonsense message to President Hu Jintao and other leaders. China and other developing nations should adopt basic environmental protections similar to the Clean Air Act provisions that the United States enacted in the 1970s. Despite the costs, U.S. industry compliance with the Clean Air Act has essentially eliminated the health hazards posed by some dangerous pollutants including lead, particulates, soot and sulfur dioxide. In our country, industry environmental efforts and cleaner cars have benefited our workers, our communities and our children. Our nationwide air quality, as measured by the levels of the six air pollutants that must meet national standards, has improved significantly. From 1980-2008, air pollution from ozone dropped 25 percent, particulates by 68 percent, nitrogen dioxide by 46 percent, sulfur dioxide by 71 percent, carbon monoxide by 79 percent and lead by 92 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency U.S. industry cleanup efforts have also contributed to declines in toxic air pollutants such as benzene, mercury and other chemicals. The operators of U.S. chemical plants, incinerators and coke ovens have spent millions and millions of dollars to reduce emissions of the worst pollutants � and EPA data show these efforts have produced the desired results. These efforts were expensive, but U.S. companies invested the money to improve the air we breathe. Now it�s China�s turn to ensure its future by protecting its children. If China and other developing nations followed America�s lead and adopted tougher clean air standards, the environmental benefits for their citizens would be immense. Importantly, these new environmental protections would also create a level playing field for U.S. businesses that have complied with basic clean air requirements for decades. American industries could no longer avoid U.S. environmental laws by closing their factories here and exporting those jobs to China.China and other fast-developing nations must do what�s right for the people and what�s fair to other countries. We have no problem with China�s reluctance to join Europe and the U.S. in a misguided battle against global warming. If the U.S. wants to commit economic suicide and export hundreds of thousands of high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas, why blame China for our stupidity? We can all appreciate China�s stated priority: first development, then environment. Growth delivers huge benefits for people, starting with better health, more food and running water. Nothing improves people�s lives like electricity. But China plays by its own rules. Its economic miracle depends too much on inadequate environmental protections that put its children at risk. That�s why tougher clean air regulation is needed in China, which is home to 16 of the world�s 20 dirtiest cities. China�s leaders understand the problem. In October, a top Chinese environmental official admitted that one-fifth of the nation�s drinking water failed to meet national standards, leaving 90 million people without access to clean water. Lead poisoning is perhaps China�s most lethal environmental problem, and one that is particularly harmful to children. Last month, more than 1,000 children under age 14 in Henan Province in central China tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in their blood, almost certainly the result of unchecked lead emissions from the nation�s largest lead smelter located nearby. This incident followed accounts of lead poisoning in Shaanxi Province and elsewhere in China, affecting thousands of children. Fair trade and human health concerns demand that China solve its environmental problems by enacting and enforcing more stringent clean air rules. Obama should insist that China improve its environmental laws � and worry about global warming when and if it becomes something more than a theory. Don Blankenship is chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Co.