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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of May 2, 2014

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Air pollution in China (photo: bigstockphoto.com)

In this week’s trip beyond the headlines, the publisher of Daily Climate dot org Peter Dykstra tells host Steve Curwood about a Missouri air pollution program so successful it's going broke, and new pollution laws in smoggy China.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Time to tunnel beyond the headlines now with our guide to that realm, Peter Dykstra. He publishes Environmental Health News, that's EHN.org and DailyClimate.org, and joins us on the line now from Conyers, Georgia. Hi there, Peter.

DYKSTRA: Hi, Steve. We're going to start you off with a little unusual problem. The agency in charge of enforcing air pollution laws in the state of Missouri has a pretty big problem right now.

CURWOOD: And what’s that...or I maybe I should say, "Show me!"

DYKSTRA: Well, here it is. Apparently they’ve done a terrific job. The Air Pollution Control Program at Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources funds itself by collecting fees from air polluters. They don’t get much. It’s about $40 per ton of pollutants, but industry has been cutting down on pollution in recent years. That’s an air-flow benefit for lungs in Missouri but it’s a cash-flow problem for the state’s bean-counters, and the air- pollution control program says they’ll go broke by 2016 if the they can’t find a fix.

CURWOOD: Well what about a fix to raise the fees beyond $40 per ton of pollution?

DYKSTRA: Exactly, and that’s what they’re thinking about, but that requires help from the Governor and from the legislature, and the earliest that can take effect if they agree is 2016, and that’s right about when the money runs out. But wait, there’s more! This bureaucratic clean-air nightmare gets even worse. Tighter Federal EPA clean air limits are going to kick in over the next few years. Missouri’s air will be even cleaner and that means its air pollution budget will be even leaner.

CURWOOD: So as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, huh?

DYKSTRA: I guess, but at least air pollution there is on the way down. Which is not the case in China, but there are some changes in the air there, too.

CURWOOD: Along with a lot of other things. But what’s new in China?

DYKSTRA: Well, for the first time in 25 years, the Standing Committee of the People’s National Congress has revised and upgraded China’s main environmental laws. They're promising stiffer fines against polluting industries and the new laws will make it easier for citizens and non-government groups to sue to enforce the pollution laws.

CURWOOD: Wait a second here, Peter. You’re saying, even with everything we hear about the massive pollution problems in China, this is the first sweeping government action in, what, a quarter century?

DYKSTRA: Yeah, can you imagine that? It’s one of the world’s biggest and most powerful nations, and its legislature can’t seem to get anything done on the environment? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

CURWOOD: Ummm, no…. I most definitely have! But China is a case unto itself for pollution.


Former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney (photo: Joeff Davis, Creative Commons 3.0)

DYKSTRA: It is. We picked up this story from Stuart Leavenworth, who covers China for the McClatchy newspaper chain, and his reporting says that one of the government’s motivators in stiffening these pollution laws is all of the public discontent that’s on the rise there, the widespread environmental protests that have been going on in China. But the state-run media is already managing expectations, saying that stronger laws alone won’t undo what they called “decades of reckless pollution.”

CURWOOD: Well there are over a billion people in China and if they're motivated to make these changes, it's going to be a big deal.

DYKSTRA: Well, yeah, but don't hold your breath, which might be itself healthy in China.

CURWOOD: Peter, what do you have on the history calendar this week?

DYKSTRA: Well, Steve, 10 years ago this week, a forward-thinking governor from Living On Earth’s home state enacted a sweeping plan to combat climate change. It was called the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan. Governor Mitt Romney was at the head of it. He had outlined steps for the state to deal with climate impacts on severe storms, the coastline, freshwater, wildlife, human health and more.

CURWOOD: But wait, by the time he ran for President in 2012, Governor Romney wasn’t so sure about climate change.

DYKSTRA: By then he didn’t care much for universal health care either, even though that's something else he set up when he was Governor. Several times on the Presidential campaign trail in 2012 he said he wasn’t sure about manmade climate change anymore, and he thought that spending money on some kind of climate protection plan was a really bad idea.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra is publisher of Environmental Health News, that’s EHN.org, and the DailyClimate.org. Thanks so much, Peter for taking the time today.

DYKSTRA: Alright, thanks a lot, Steve, we'll talk to you soon.

CURWOOD: And there's more on these stories at our website, LOE.org.

 

Links

Read more about the Missouri pollution program here

The Sacramento Bee’s story on new pollution laws in China

Massachusetts Climate Protection Program

 

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