The Washington Post
Car Emissions Standards Face Objections in China
BEIJING — China’s economic planners want to delay nationwide enforcement of more stringent auto-emissions standards, a decision that could mean greater levels of pollution in already dirty skies as 24,000 new cars, trucks and buses hit Chinese roads each day.
The National Development and Reform Commission has, in effect, overruled the country’s relatively weak environmental-protection agency, saying its July 1 deadline for tighter emissions controls is impractical. The commission said enforcement of the new standard should instead be phased in over a number of years.
China’s State Environmental Protection Administration has set new standards for auto emissions that are essentially the same as the Euro III rules imposed in the European Union seven years ago. The Euro III directives require improvements in car engines and exhaust systems, as well as the use of cleaner gasoline.
A commission official said oil refiners could not produce enough low-sulfur gasoline to enable the standards to be rolled out across the country by July 1. In most of China, emissions standards are equivalent to the lower Euro II standard, which allows dirtier fuel and was used in Europe from 1996 to 2000.
“We don’t have enough good fuel, so imposing the new rules will have to go step by step with fuel supplies,” a senior development-commission official said. He said the stricter regulations probably would be imposed first in big cities. Beijing, the capital, has already imposed the Euro III standard.
Casting confusion on what will happen, a spokesman for the environmental-protection agency said it plans to go ahead with enforcing its rules nationwide July 1. The government’s economic-planning and environmental arms are often at odds as Chinese leaders try to maintain the country’s rapid growth.
International environmental experts say it is important for China to tighten its autoemissions rules as the number of cars and trucks on the road grows quickly. China is the world’s second-largest vehicle market, after the United States, though it has far fewer cars per person than the United States or Europe.
This rapid growth in the use of motor vehicles has contributed to serious air pollution in Chinese cities, as well as to problems with congestion. But cars have also become an important symbol of the country’s economic rise, and authorities have been loath to restrain their use.
Li Wanli, an official in the development commission’s industrial policy division, said recently that the environmental protection agency’s timetable was “harsh” and that Chinese oil companies were “still not able to supply sufficient fuel” that meets the new standard, known as National III.
However, officials at the two largest oil refiners, Sinopec and PetroChina, which together produce about 90 percent of China’s gasoline, say they have the capacity to make the cleaner fuel and are prepared to roll it out as soon as the government tells them to. Sinopec spokesman Huang Wenshang said it would be “a piece of cake” to supply fuel that meets the National III standard nationwide. Ellen Zhu in Shanghai and Kersten Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.