Steel factories and thermal power plants in eastern China that provide real-time emissions data frequently exceed national standards, a study led by an environmental group in Beijing said yesterday.

Companies from those industries based in the provinces of Shandong and Hebei were in “serious breach” of discharge standards even during periods of severe air pollution, the report by the Beijing-based Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs said. The IPE studied data from industrial facilities in three eastern provinces that have begun releasing real-time information since July as part of a project initiated by China's environment ministry.

More than 600 million people were affected by a “globally unprecedented” outbreak of smog in China that started last January and spread across dozens of provinces, lasting several months, Ma Jun, the Beijing-based founder and director of IPE, told reporters in the Chinese capital.

China is increasingly publishing online data about air pollution as the government vows to cut coal consumption, shut steel plants and limit the number of cars. Communist Party leaders have signaled that they are willing to endure slower growth as they champion a more sustainable economic model.

“The government should enhance supervision, media should expose more, and banks should cut loans to these types of companies,” Ma said, referring to about 4,000 companies including those in thermal power, steel, cement, refining and petrochemicals, that contribute 65 per cent of China's industrial emissions of pollutants. “These 4,000 main polluters should be closely watched to reduce pollution.”

Real-time monitoring

A total of 179 cities were releasing air quality information in real time as of Jan. 2, yesterday's report said. The standard of air quality data monitoring in Beijing, Dongguan, Nanjing and Suzhou is close to international levels, Ma said.

The country's Ministry of Environmental Protection said in July that all provinces should establish online platforms for disclosure of real-time data straight from major emitters. So far, only Shandong, Hebei and Zhejiang have complied, IPE said.

The release of real-time emissions data is the “biggest thing China has done to address its pollution problems to date, and based on our experience in the U.S., the most likely to succeed,” Linda Greer, a Washington, D.C.-based director of the health and environment program at the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, wrote about the study on her blog on Jan. 12.

Shandong province

Of 1,009 companies in Shandong that published emissions of nitrogen oxide, a major pollutant, 61 per cent in the city of Dongying exceeded the national standard, the study said. The province has the best real-time emissions monitoring system, the report said.

The new data shows that some companies are “really far” from achieving new standards on emissions that will come into effect in July this year, the IPE study said. In one example, a power plant owned by Datang International Power Generation Co. in Hebei province would have exceeded the new standards for nitrogen oxide almost every day in December, the report said. Three calls to Wang Xin, a Beijing-based spokesman for the company's parent, China Datang Corp., weren't answered.

China's provinces and regions were told this month to cut main air pollutants by as much as 25 per cent by 2017 compared with 2012 levels, the environment ministry said.

President Xi Jinping told a study session of the party's top leadership in May that China won't sacrifice the environment for short-term growth. The party also announced its determination to draw a “red line” to protect the environment in a communique released after a mid-November meeting.

Bloomberg