China steel hub Hebei moves 2019 industrial capacity cutting targets forward

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top steelmaking province of Hebei has moved up the target dates for cutting industrial capacity and relocating plants by two months to the end of October, the provincial environmental department said.

FILE PHOTO: A man rides an electric scooter near a steel plant in Wu'an, Hebei province, China, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The province has pledged to reduce the amount of air pollution released by industrial plants, especially the amount of hazardous particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less, known as PM2.5, which can lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled.

In the first six months of 2019, the average PM 2.5 concentration in Hebei was at the same level as last year at 58 micrograms per cubic meter, despite the extension of industrial production curbs.

Average PM2.5 levels in 337 cities nationwide fell 2.4% to 40 micrograms in the first half of the year, according to environment ministry data released on Monday, but six cities in Hebei remained among the country’s 20 worst performers. China’s biggest steel producing city of Tangshan, located in eastern Hebei, ranked worst.

The province has set a target of 53 micrograms per cubic meter for this year.

“There remains a relatively big gap for us to reach the annual air quality goal... So we decided to adopt more targeted and effective measures to control air pollution,” the province said in the statement released on Friday.

Hebei earlier planned to eliminate steel capacity of 14 million tonnes, coal capacity of 10 million tonnes, coke capacity of 3 million tonnes and coal-fired power capacity of 500 megawatts by the end of 2019.

It also planned to shut down or move 19 high-emission industrial plants in steel, chemicals and pharmaceutical sectors by the year end.

“We used to conduct annual (anti-pollution) assessments in the end of year. But this time, we make clear that we should aim to get the tasks done as soon as possible,” said Jiang Weining, an official at the atmospheric environment department at Hebei’s ecology and environment bureau, in the statement.

The province also pushed forward the elimination of small coal-fired industrial boilers and ultra-low emission upgrades at steel mills.

All coke plants in the region are ordered to meet ultra-low emission standards by October 2019, while all steel mills will need to reach the target by 2020.

“We expect PM2.5 concentration in Hebei to lower by 4.46 micrograms per cubic meter if we fully implement the anti-pollution measures and bring the deadlines (of the tasks) forward, which will largely help us to meet the annual air quality targets,” the statement said.

The government of Tangshan said on Monday that they would introduce stricter punishments and more frequent “naming and shaming” of officials in districts that see deteriorating air quality.

“Tangshan was ranked the worst performing city in China in May, June and the first week of July, with pollution worsening in some districts, making it increasingly difficult for us to meet targets,” the government said, citing a meeting held on Sunday.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; editing by Christian Schmollinger