- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

According to an atmospheric scientist interviewed by the New York Times, the filters in the mountains of eastern California near Lake Tahoe contain so many sulfur compounds and other coal-related pollutants that they “are the darkest [filters] that we’ve seen” outside smoggy urban areas. But the soot and toxic chemicals pervading the mountaintop detectors do not originate from Los Angeles automobiles or power plants serving California’s urban areas. Rather, these pollutants are exported to the western United States by Chinese coal-fired power plants. “Unless China finds a way to clean up its coal plants and the thousands of factories that burn coal,” the New York Times reported Sunday, “pollution will soar both at home and abroad,” including throughout the western United States.

Already, China uses more coal to power its factories and generate electricity than the United States, Japan and the European Union — combined. Recently, China’s coal consumption has been rising by 14 percent a year. Indeed, every seven to 10 days, the NYT reports, a new coal-fired power plant big enough to serve every household in San Diego comes on line in China. None of these new plants, which are likely to operate for 75 years, has the most advanced pollution-control equipment, which has long been available in the West, including, of course, the United States. The NYT reports that “Chinese utilities have in the past preferred to buy cheap but often-antiquated [pollution-control] equipment from well-connected domestic suppliers instead of importing costlier gear from the West.”

Other developed nations essentially kowtowed to China by exempting it from the Kyoto treaty. This invited de facto rejection by Congress, where there has long been bipartisan opposition to the Kyoto Protocol’s hugely unequal treatment of countries. After all, as the Kyoto-embracing New York Times acknowledged in its article, the increase in global-warming gases from China will likely “surpass by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks” from advanced economies.

Citing its status as a relatively poor, developing, emerging-market economy, China claims it cannot afford the more effective, more expensive pollution-control equipment. The real question, however, is whether the world can afford the consequences of China’s failure to curb its pollutants. Regarding affordability, it is worth noting that China’s cumulative trade surplus in goods with the United States since the beginning of 2000 has exceeded $800 billion. Last year alone, the U.S. trade deficit in goods with China was more than $200 billion, and it continues to increase by about $17 billion per month. China also recently became the world’s largest holder of foreign-exchange reserves, which now exceed $875 billion.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China had a current-account surplus last year of nearly $160 billion, or more than 7 percent of its gross domestic product. The United States, of course, enjoys a huge comparative advantage in the production of pollution-control equipment, which China can clearly afford to purchase from American firms.

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