In China, there’s a revolution brewing, and it has nothing to do with the Communist party. It’s about the foul air that more and more is causing the Chinese to wheeze and causing Western executives to either turn down assignments to work in Beijing or demand huge amounts of hazard pay. In a story in yesterday’s WSJ, titled “The Biggest Polluter in China’s Dirtiest City,” one of the country’s top coal companies faces a dilemma, because they’re also the top employer in Xingtai as well.
A photo showed commuters riding their bikes and motorbikes in a thick haze of coal dust and ozone pollution, in the city where Jizhong Energy Resources has 50,800 workers. Many of them wash dirt and grit out of big piles of coal, and many said they haven’t been given bonuses in many months because of the pressure the company faces to lower its terrible soot output.
Gardens that people plant are layered with coal ash, and they complain that nobody wants to buy their crops. Jizhong operates six large coal mines that together with the dozens of related facilities give Xingtai the dubious honor of China’s worst air. To compare, in the US, Fresno, California has an average fine particulate matter of PM2.5 a level of 18 micrograms per cubic meter. In Xingtai that number is 150. But the government is working hard to change this, to their credit. In October they began rewarding citizens who report environmental violations. The Jizhong company has installed desulfurization equipment in all its power plants in 2008 and 2009 and when two of the plants still failed air quality tests the company has said they would shut them down in 2016.
The company has taken a big hit with the lower price of coal and for having to lower emissions–their profit shrank 93% from last year to today. With so many local people depending on the polluting company for their paychecks, it’s a constant battle, but in the end everyone realizes that things have to change drastically or no one will be able to breath.