Watchdog plans control of acid rain
Increasing discharges of nitric acid and sulphur dioxide (SO2) are worsening China's acid rain, experts say.
"The amazing growth of nitrates, thanks to a swift rise of automobiles and coal consumption plus overuse of fertilizers, is playing an increasing role in the country's acid rain pollution," said Tang Dagang, director of Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.
The conclusion was drawn from a five-year Sino-Norwegian programme to monitor acidification in southwestern China.
In response, China's environmental watchdog said yesterday it is laying out a mid and long-term programme on acid rain control.
Tang said the future acid rain control plan should give full consideration to sulphuric, nitric and calcic emissions and disposal.
"If no effective control is set up on nitric acid, it will result in both acid rain and nutrification of waters," said he.
To date, China has no special regulation to control nitric acid, said Liu Bingjiang, a senior official with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
The plan will also set quota for the emission of SO2 by thermal power plants.
Mid and eastern China has seen severe acid rain in the last decade.
Last year, the country discharged more than 21 million tons of SO2, up 12 per cent from the previous year, while 265 domestic cities reported acid rain.
Despite a lot of measure taken by the authorities, there has been no obvious improvement, said Wang Jian, an official with SEPA.
"The regional acid rain pollution is still out of control, and even worse in some southern cities," said Wang.
Statistics show acid rain costs the country an annual loss of 110 billion yuan (US$13.3 billion), two or three per cent of its annual gross domestic product.
China's annual SO2 emissions, of which thermal power emissions make up 34.6 per cent, exceed the maximum environmental capacity by 80 per cent.
The surging demand for coal and excessive number of small-scale thermal power plants are two main reasons for the rapid growth in SO2 discharges.
"It is estimated that the country will consume more than 1.8 billion tons of coal in 2005, emitting an additional 6 million tons of SO2," said Wang.
About 1.3 per cent of China's coal is sulphur. In Southwest China's Guizhou Province, the percentage is even as high as 2.5 per cent, said Tang.
To curb the problem, the State started last year to lay out a series of new regulations.
On the one hand, it urges all thermal power plants to install desulphurization facilities, regardless of their age.
New power plants with desulphurization facilities will be able to set higher grid prices.
On the other hand, it has developed more strict punishment for over-discharges of SO2.
Last year, the State raised the charge on SO2 emission from 210 yuan (US$25) to 420 yuan (US$50) per ton, and will charge 630 yuan (US$75) per ton next year.
"However, the old thermal power plants remain a big headache," said Liu.
Currently, few of them have desulphurization facilities because "to install an efficient desulphurization facility may cost one third of the investment in a thermal power plant. Plus there is no policy on raising the grid price so far."
In Guizhou Province, only two of the nine old coal-burning power plants have such facilities.
Experts suggest the central government should earmark more money towards renovating old plants.