By AARON BACK and CARLOS TEJADA
BEIJING -- China will increase fuel standards for diesel and gasoline over the next four years as leaders grapple with intensifying public pressure to solve the nation's mounting pollution problems.
China's State Council, or cabinet, said Wednesday it would ratchet up national fuel standards to levels similar to those currently found in the US and Europe by the end of 2017.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials said they would publish new automotive diesel standards as soon as possible that will slash sulfur emissions to about one-seventh of current permitted levels. The new diesel standards will become effective nationwide by the end of next year, it said.
Beijing will also give room to China's refining industry to pass on the cost to consumers, according to the statement on the State Council's website. China strictly controls fuel prices, which limits the ability of refining companies to easily pass on the cost of refinery and antipollution upgrades to consumers.
The State Council also said it would hold industry more accountable. Fees for pollution will be raised, the statement said, while enforcement of the fuel-quality standards will be stepped up and penalties increased for violations, it added.
It ordered China's three state-owned oil companies, China National Petroleum Corp., China National Offshore Oil Corp. and China Petrochemical Corp., to upgrade refining facilities to meet the standards. The companies didn't respond to requests late Wednesday for comment.
The moves, which were widely expected, follow the worst pollution in Beijing and other parts of the country in recent memory. Several times during the month of January air quality in the region lingered at levels considered hazardous by health officials in the US.
The levels of the most dangerous particulate matter in the air -- known as PM2.5 for its extremely small size -- at times rose to levels not seen in the US except during major fires.
The spate of pollution put China's massive state-controlled refining industry under a spotlight. The Chinese Academy of Sciences this week blamed motor vehicles for contributing nearly one-quarter of Beijing's PM2.5 levels.
The technical committee working on tighter diesel standards is overwhelmingly dominated by refining-industry representatives, according to industry experts.
Tang Dagang, director of the Vehicle Emission Control Center, a policy research group also affiliated with China's Environmental Protection Ministry, said last month that Chinese refineries won't produce cleaner fuel until the higher production costs are addressed by Chinese officials.
Diesel fuel in particular has been blamed for much of China's pollution problems. Trucks account for almost one-quarter of China's vehicles but contribute a disproportionate share, almost 80%, of vehicle particulate matter.
The Wall Street Journal (via Dow Jones Newswires)