A plan to charge heavy polluters for their emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by using a new tariff that state media named the “smog fee” was introduced Wednesday by the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, the Shanghai Municipal Development and Reform Commission, and the Shanghai Municipal Finance Bureau.
The fee will gradually increase over time. Initially, companies will be charged 10 yuan per metric ton of VOCs from October 1, 2015; then 15 yuan starting July 2016; and 20 yuan starting in January 2017. The charges will eventually extend to include more industries. Currently, it covers 12 industries, including shipbuilding, petrochemicals, automobiles, package printing and furniture. Industries the government hopes to phase out or with limited development potential will be charged 1.5 to 2 times the baseline rate for their emissions.
A spokesperson for the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau said that VOCs are necessary for the formation of smog and PM2.5 air pollution, and that VOCs are the biggest source of pollutants in the air over Shanghai.
The penalty fees collected will be added directed to the general public budget fund. They will then be used for other pollution prevention initiatives, according to the plan. The local government expects that the plan will bring levels of industrial VOCs down by 50 percent by the end of 2017.
Environmental activists are divided on whether this move will be successful or not. Veteran environmental activist Huo Daishan believes the smog fee is a step in the right direction, saying that, “[Polluters] should be prompted to clean up their act, and I think this is a viable way to do that.”
However, some are more cynical. Environmental campaigner Wu Lihong said the fee scheme targets the result, but not the cause of air pollution, which he says is an obsession with economic growth. “Even if they do pay up what they owe according to this scheme, then emissions will be still harder to regulate in future, because they will have the attitude that they’ve paid up, so they get to pollute,” Wu said.
Only the future can tell the effectiveness of this new fee. In the meantime, check out some fun smog tips and FAQ about pollution.
By Mary DeMay
[Images via CCTV // RFA]