This story was published in the Missoulian and Char-Koosta News.
Particulate matter is the bane of Missoula skies. On smoky days, like those of September 2012, tiny airborne particulates can reach levels higher than 200 micrograms per cubic meter. By comparison, particulates in U.S. airport smoking lounges hover around 190 micrograms per cubic meter, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That would be a nice day in Beijing, China: Last January, the city’s pollution peaked at 886 micrograms per cubic meter.
China’s air pollution problem, as seen here in Beijing, has led the country to ban new coal-fired power plants in Beijing and two other cities.
The main culprit is burning coal.
On September 12, the Chinese government announced an action plan to improve what it called the country’s “grim” air pollution problem, which has “harmed people’s health and affected social harmony and stability.” The plan will ban new coal-fired power plants in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and reduce the percentage of the country’s energy derived from burning coal.
On the same day, almost 50 people gathered at the University of Montana in Missoula to testify against a controversial coal export terminal in Longview, Wash. It and another proposed dock near Bellingham, Wash., would together ship upwards of a million tons of coal—mostly from mines in Montana and Wyoming—to Asia each year. Washington state’s environmental review of the proposed ports will consider carbon dioxide emitted by burning the coal and the effects of trains carrying coal from faraway mines, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided in June that it will not consider such cumulative impacts.
But it’s those cumulative impacts that worry Lifeng Fang, an environmental activist from Beijing who spoke at the gathering in Missoula last Thursday. “Air pollution knows no boundaries,” Fang said, referring to the jet stream that carries pollution from China across the Pacific to the U.S. When coal is shipped to and burned in Asia, Fang said the pollution “just floats back.” Continue reading