Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In June 2012 China told US to stop reports on Beijing air pollution, 'inconsistent with Vienna Convention,' Shanghai official said US consulate feed on Shanghai pollution was 'illegal'-AP

China said "air quality monitoring by foreign diplomats was inconsistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." Shanghai official said US Shanghai consulate air quality feed was "illegal."
6/5/12, "China tells US to stop reporting Beijing's bad air," AP, Alexa Olesen

"China told foreign embassies Tuesday to stop publishing their own reports on air quality in the country, escalating its objections to a popular U.S. Embassy Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing.

Only the Chinese government is authorized to monitor and publish air quality information and data from other sources may not be standardized or rigorous, Wu Xiaoqing, a vice environmental minister, told reporters.

China has long taken issue with the U.S. Embassy's postings of hourly readings of Beijing's air quality on a Twitter feed with more than 19,000 followers since 2008. But its past objections were raised quietly. U.S. consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou also post readings of the cities' air quality on Twitter.

The Twitter feeds were operating normally Tuesday, and an embassy spokesman in Beijing said the air quality reports were meant to inform Americans living in the three Chinese cities.

The air quality readings in Beijing are based on a single monitoring station within embassy grounds, and pollution levels are rated according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard that is more stringent than the one used by the Chinese government....

The Beijing government only began reporting PM2.5 earlier this year after long-standing public and international criticism of its lack of transparency about its air quality.

The government appears frustrated that there are now dueling readings for air quality and that the U.S. readings underscore the fact that pollution levels considered unhealthy in the U.S. are classified as good by China.

Wu said it isn't fair to judge Chinese air by American standards because China is a developing country and noted that U.S. environmental guidelines have become more stringent over time.

The standard China uses "takes into account the level of our current stage of development," Wu said.

Wu also said that air quality monitoring by foreign diplomats was inconsistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and urged diplomats to abide by China's laws and regulations....

Later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin echoed Wu's remarks, saying at a regular press briefing that China objected to the publicity rather than the gathering of the environmental data.

"Of course, if the foreign embassies want to collect air quality information for their own staff or diplomats, I think that is their own matter, but we believe that this type of information should not released to the public," Liu said.

The top environmental official in Shanghai over the weekend also spoke out on the issue, telling local media that an air quality feed launched last month by the U.S. consulate in Shanghai was illegal.

The U.S. Embassy said the air quality monitor in Shanghai measures the air quality in the area around the consulate's office. "The monitor is an unofficial resource for the health of the consulate community," said Richard Buangan, embassy spokesman in Beijing.

China requires concentrations of PM2.5 to be kept below daily averages of 75 micrograms per cubic meter — more than twice as lenient as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard of 35 micrograms."...

Three US Embassy/Consulate China air quality twitter links via AP (Beijing worked when I tried it, the others didn't):

U.S. Embassy Beijing air quality monitor:!/BeijingAir
U.S. Consulate Guangzhou air quality monitor:!/Guangzhou_Air
U.S. Consulate Shanghai air quality monitor:!/cgshanghaiair


Western companies are moving to China so they'll have easier access to highly polluting rare earths minerals needed for wind turbines, electric car batteries, green light bulbs, and other items. China makes the case that the US and others unwilling to pollute their own air should pay more for China rare earth exports:

10/24/13, "China Tries to Clean Up Toxic Legacy of Its Rare Earth Riches," NY Times, Keith Bradsher

"China has made ample supplies [of rare earths minerals] available to manufacturers within China that produce crucial components for a host of products like laptop computers, compact fluorescent bulbs, wind turbines and electric cars. Some Western and Japanese companies have moved factories to China to make sure that they have access to rare earths. ...

In Guangdong province in southeastern China, regulators are struggling to repair rice fields and streams destroyed by powerful acids and other runoff from open-pit rare earth mines that are often run by violent organized crime syndicates....

In a white paper issued in June last year, China’s cabinet described at length the environmental harm caused by the rare earth industry, an admission that although embarrassing for Beijing may have buttressed its case at the W.T.O. that the rare earth industry is a dirty business for which export restrictions are justified. “Excessive rare earth mining has resulted in landslides, clogged rivers, environmental pollution emergencies and even major accidents and disasters, causing great damage to people’s safety and health and the ecological environment,” the white paper said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that their newfound concerns for the environmental consequences of rare earth mining and refining are driven by a desire to help avoid defeat at the W.T.O., although the cleanup could help on that. 
Whole villages between the city of Baotou and the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia have been evacuated and resettled to apartment towers elsewhere after reports of high cancer rates and other health problems associated with the numerous rare earth refineries there. 

The most hazardous refineries are those that crack the tight chemical bonds that tie rare earths found in mineral ores to a variety of hazardous materials, notably radioactive thorium....A hazardous stew of toxic chemicals and low-level radioactive waste is left behind....

On orders from Beijing, state-controlled enterprises have dismantled Baotou refineries and rebuilt them at an enormous mining complex at Bayan Obo in the Gobi Desert, which mines about half the world’s rare earths. Chinese state-controlled media have reported that tens of thousands of goats and other livestock there have died and many baby goats have been born severely deformed, possibly because of radioactive contamination from the rare earth industry....


In 2012 Obama said China should give the US a better deal on rare earths minerals so Americans could have "a fair shot in the global economy" which shocked China since Obama portrays himself as pro-environment:

3/15/12, "Rare earth case reveals US hypocrisy," Peoples Daily Online, by Chen Weihua (China Daily)

"US President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that the United States, joined by Japan and the European Union, has filed complaints with the World Trade Organization over China's rare earth export quotas.

He said this as an effort to give "American workers and American businesses a fair shot in the global economy".

His words, however, imply that he does not really care about the environmental degradation caused by China's disorderly and excessive mining of rare earth materials, as long as US workers and businesses can profit from China's cheap supply.
Countries such as the US, Canada and Australia, which used to produce rare earth minerals, stopped such manufacturing a decade ago due to the environmental concerns and the higher cost compared with Chinese exports.... 
According to the US Geological Survey, there are about 13 million metric tons of rare earth deposits in the US. Instead of buying from China, Obama should propose tapping the US' own deposits. Such a move would not only enable the US to share the responsibility for the supply of rare earth materials, it would also create jobs for Americans."...

10/31/10, "Workers walk through thick haze in front of a rare earth smelting plant next to a vast tailings dam near Xinguang Village, located on the outskirts of the city of Baotou in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region October 31, 2010." reuters, gray

11/21/2010, "Carbon emissions dip in 2009, to jump in 2010," Reuters, David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia


1/10/2010, "EXCLUSIVE: Inside China's secret toxic unobtainium mine," UK Daily Mail, Richard Jones in Baiyun Obo, Inner Mongolia

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