Industrialization in developed countries often has severe costs for the environment, and the quality of air is not an exception. To find a beneficial compromise between technological and industrial advancement and care for natural resources, strict and reasonable legislation is necessary. Detailed in this paper are different air quality regulations of two developed countries namely China and the United States. Although there are several similarities between the two, there are ostensible differences between them and the consequences for each country vary.
Pollution has been an increasingly pressing problem for China considering its vastly growing economic prowess. It has been reported that the TSP (total suspended particulates) and SO2 (sulfur dioxide) has been growing steadily since 1995, especially in the capital, Beijing (Tanaka, 5). These excessive emissions can be related to the coal usage for power generation in the country. From these alarming statistics came calls for air quality regulation and the government took action in the form of the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law (APPCL). It was original passed in 1987 to disappointing results. The growth of SO2 was not hampered at all and acid rain proliferated around the country. This then led to the amendment of the APPCL in 1995. The most crucial amendment was the assessment of one of the major causes of these toxic emissions: the power sector. Power plants with notable emissions of high sulfuric content are to be regulated by the amended law. Moreover, the approach was regional instead of national for a more focused attempt in regulation. From this point on, firmer regulations on air quality have been passed for China.
Following the amendment of the APPCL was the formalized regional approach called the Two Control Zones, passed by the State Council three years after the amendment. Specific parameters have been set per regions that must be maintained lest a region be deemed a pollution control zone. These parameters include the ambient sulfur dioxide concentrations, daily concentrations on average, and peak sulfur dioxide. Acid rain is also another category for a control zone is measured by the annual pH levels during precipitation, sulfate deposition and peak sulfur dioxide levels.
Aside from more detailed parameters in measuring the air quality per region, enforcement mechanisms were also heightened. New coal mines must limit themselves with coal that has less than three percent sulfur content. Any construction of new power plants that use coal within medium to large prefectures is not allowed. Renovated power plants must use coal that does not exceed one percent of sulfur content. Should any power plant require coal that exceeds the one percent threshold, it is mandatory that flue gas desulfurization equipment be installed. These stricter measures proved to be much more effective than its predecessors with sulfur dioxide levels dropping from 23.67 to 19.95 million tons by the second millennium.
At the other side of the globe, the United States is also very much concerned with the amount of emissions the country produces. The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with monitoring these emissions and ensuring that the rules and regulations passed by the government are enforced properly (EPA, “Air Pollution Emissions Overview”). Its primary regulation for air quality began with The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 which is considered to be the very first step towards a federal regulation of air quality. This focused primarily on research about air quality and air pollution. This was succeeded by the currently recognized legislation for air quality known as the Clean Air Act (CAA) that was passed in 1963. The Clean Air Act is considered as the foundation of the air quality regulations in the States. The original CAA was focused on studying and understanding air pollution itself, as a successor to The Air Pollution Control Act. A more effective regulation of air pollution and air quality came with the amendment of the CAA in 1967. This began enforcement for air pollution regulation but was however limited to the transportation of pollutants in between states. Moreover it authorized further research into air pollution.
Much more substantial changes were seen in the amendment in 1970. As compared to the original, the amendment focused on federal regulations for industrial as well as mobile pollutions sources. Moreover, four programs regulation industrial sources were formed which are the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, State Standards for Hazardous Pollutants, New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Pollutants. Aside from that, it also began limiting toxic emissions from motor vehicles, a first in the CAA legislation.
More amendments were added in 1977 which was focused on the Prevention of Significant Deterioration. More comprehensive amendments came in 1990 when it further added federal authority when it came to air quality regulation. More novel programs that were concerned with acid rain and industrial source operating permits were launched as well as control of air pollutants. More revisions included the modification of provisions for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, heightened enforcement in the federal level and phasing out of chemical usage which were known to thin the ozone layer.
In line with the CAA as a regulation for air quality, the EPA has also released an Air Toxics Rules and Implementation. It is the responsibility of the EPA to monitor toxic air pollutants which are specified as source categories. These source categories have specific technology requirements that must be met to minimize hazardous air pollution. These meet the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. This is a very specific list of source categories who meet strict regulations and requirements.
These two developed countries have varying regulations in place for air quality regulation. China’s APPCL was very much concerned with its sulfur dioxide emissions especially in densely populated areas. Due to its sheer size, enforcement of air quality regulations can be quite difficult and the Chinese government opted for a regional approach in implementing their set rules. Whereas in the United States, the states tend to function individually and a federal law is necessary to set a uniform standard across the country which all must comply with; hence the CAA was passed.
In comparison with amendments and modifications, the APPCL was only amended once with the second amendment still in the works. Although the TCZ program was quite efficient after its passing, changing times call for more stringent measures. The CAA on the other hand, was passed through various amendments over the decades, continually improving and being more detailed with its processes and standards. Clearly, the United States and the EPA are very much concerned with the efficiency of the CAA’s enforcement.
With the matter of pollutant control, the CAA’s list of source categories and the detailed requirements for each is meticulously organized and thereby easier to enforce. On the other hand, the APPCL is more concerned with the sulfuric emissions of its power plants and massive industrial sectors. Moreover, the Chinese government is more focused on its 47 highly polluted cities since parts of the country are rural; thereby having fewer emissions than in the urban areas. On the other hand, federal control is imperative to the CAA.
When it comes to its origins, both legislations are concerned with what air pollution and air quality meant and its implications for short-term and long-term consequences which is very much the heart of these regulations. It is imperative that the status of air pollution in both countries be understood and its regulations be fitting to the situation. The differences between the two regulations do not necessarily imply that one is more efficient than the other; it simply highlights that the state of these two countries vary. Although both are industrial superpowers, the considerable size of China and its rural areas contrast greatly to the smaller size of the United States, its political structure of states and federal functions. What matters is the efficiency of these regulations for its respective countries and the environment.
EPA. Air Pollution Emissions Overview. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 4 November, 2011. Web.
Finamore, Barbara. “Air Pollution Crisis Gives New Momentum to Environmental Regulation in China”. Switchboard. 22 February 2013. Web.
Tanaka, Shinsuke. Environmental Regulations in China and Their Impact on Air Pollution and Infant Mortality. Boston University. 2010. Job Market Paper.