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China clearing the air for Olympics

Scott Tong Jul 8, 2008

China clearing the air for Olympics

Scott Tong Jul 8, 2008


Renita Jablonski: The Olympics are exactly one month away.
Beijing is working hard and fast to clear out its dirty skies. One key is shutting down polluting factories in nearby areas. Today was actually the closing deadline in one of those cities. Marketplace’s Scott Tong is there.

Scott Tong: The industrial city of Tangshan is home to some of China’s oldest steel mills and processors. Many are now dormant, at least til the Olympics are over.

That’s bad news for metal middleman Li Jingqi. He sells raw steel rods to local plants that turn them into construction pillars.

Li Jingqi (voice of interpreter): My sales are way down, because all the factories are all closed. My business is down 30 percent. So if I lower my price it’s pointless. I assume this whole local economy’s affected.

An economy that til now had been thriving. In the last generation, China has inherited a lot of the world’s dirty steel work. Today, the country produces more than the U.S., Japan and Germany — combined.

Not everything is shutdown in Tangshan; many trucks are still rolling. That’s ’cause cleaner plants can stay open, as well as the dirty ones that choose to break the law.

Still, lots of workers are out of a job these days. We met one at noodle stand.

Local guy (voice of interpreter): We all stay at home, about 200 of us. They give us 70 cents a day when we’re not working. Normally when we’re on the job, we make $10 a day.

Just about everyone here assumes Tangshan will be back in business when the games are over. Maybe.

Will Hess of the forecasting firm Global Insight says Beijing may keep the dirty ones closed forever. Bad for the locals, but good for the rest of us.

Will Hess: One of the ways to interpret a lot of the changes that have been made leading up to the Olympics is it gives policymakers an impetus they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Beijing is also clamping down on other belching industries nearby, like carbon-intensive cement and paper. If the reforms stick, it’d be good news to the world leaders currently talking climate change downwind, at the G8 summit over in Japan.

In Tangshan, Northern China, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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