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Smog talk a turnoff for energy heads

By Du Juan (China Daily)

Updated: 2015-03-12 08:57:52


It seems that everyone is talking about problems with air quality and smog except for the ones who are closely related to the matter and really can make a change.

It's more like an implicit agreement among the big boys from energy companies during this year's annual two sessions.

China's top political consultative body has included the most influential energy giants from large State-owned and private coal, power, oil and nuclear companies.

Leaders of those energy companies such as China National Petroleum Corp, Sinopec Group and the State Grid Corporation participate in the annual political conference as members of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Since the energy industry, as a fundamental factor for other industries, affects all economic sectors of the country's economy, CPPCC members who are presidents and general managers of the biggest oil, coal and utility companies naturally become the focus of the media.

However, as a reporter who has covered several two sessions in my career, my experience shows that it is very hard to get key energy figures to talk during the meetings, and it is especially challenging this year.

"Those big boys from the energy circle are very hard to interview" is a common complaint among my fellow reporters.

The reasons are many.

When smog becomes a very serious issue in China, the energy sector, especially the oil, coal and power companies, become the targets of public criticism.

When you open any newspaper during the two sessions, it is very likely that you will see some National People's Congress deputies or CPPCC members talking about smog and calling for related policies and public attention to the issue.

Those warmhearted representatives may be writers, teachers, businessmen, singers and talk show hosts.

Together with the larger public, they want a solution, an answer or even an explanation from those energy companies' decision-makers.

Unfortunately, they don't talk.

Smog is a sensitive and tough topic in the energy circle. When new energy companies are actively promoting their products and services, saying they will save many tons of carbon emissions and help people get a cleaner sky back, traditional energy companies tend to keep quiet.

We all know that smog is a complicated environmental and economic issue and the causes are multiple. Coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, coal producers and users, grid designers, local government officials and even every driver-including me-should be responsible for the air pollution problem.

I don't mean to blame a certain industry or any of the above. However, those key figures who have power to decide a company's 10-year strategy, who are able to shut down unqualified refineries, who are in charge of making emission standards of power generation equipment, should talk, especially during this annual conference, which aims at having members' and deputies' voices heard.

The public has the right to know.

Those energy companies leaders should face up to it and stop saying "plans are being made and measures are under discussion".

At least they can tell us where we are in this battle against pollution.

Another reasonable explanation for their collective silence can be the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, which has put many senior officials and energy companies leaders into prison.

They are afraid of saying something wrong.

In the last year, more than five former NPC deputies and CPPCC members who were heads of energy companies were taken away for investigations.

Shanxi province, a big energy producer that accounts for more than one-fourth of the nation's coal output, is in the center of the country's anti-corruption campaign.

Up to seven of the province's government officials were taken away and most of them were involved in power-for-money deals with coal companies.

With such a backdrop, it is not hard to understand that energy company heads are very cautious about their words during the two sessions.

However, not all the things that can be understood are necessarily right.

I hope that one day those deputies and members from the energy circle will be as open to media during the two sessions as their counterparts in the literary and art circle.

Better communication between energy giants and the public can only be good to the country's efforts to cope with pollution.

Above that, people have the right to know.