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Coal use top villain in fight for clean skies

CHINA faces a "grave" situation in its fight against air pollution, since coal remains the dominant energy source, according to a report submitted yesterday for review by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

"As the economy develops rapidly and energy consumption keeps rising, China has seen a complicated environmental situation in the past 20 to 30 years, which in many developed countries took hundreds of years" to become evident, the report said.

It noted that coal, the main cause of soot, sulfur dioxide and other polluting substances, accounts for 70 percent of China's total energy use.

"Our prevention and treatment of air pollution has made progress, but we are still in a grave situation, and the task is still arduous," said Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian.

In 2008, Beijing had 274 blue-sky days with the help of vehicle restrictions for the Olympic Games and a US$15 billion investment in air quality. In 1998, the clear days numbered only 100.

Beijing uses a five-grade classification of air quality on the basis of pollution indexes, with Grade I being the best and Grade V the worst. Days with Grade I and II air quality are regarded as blue-sky days.

The average air quality for 23 percent of Chinese cities was below level II, the report said, and sulfur dioxide and particulates were still "comparatively high" in most cities.

Zhou said that future work to reduce emissions would focus on closing more facilities in such sectors as electric power, iron smelting, steel and paper-making, building more desulfurization facilities and ensuring they function smoothly. Air quality will be linked to rewards and punishments given to city administrators, he said.


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