Improved Environmental Inspections in China and Their Effects
China’s poor environmental performance is not for lack of issuing environmental regulations. Instead, there is a persistent gap between what the central government requires and what local governments implement (Karplus, Zhang, and Almond, 2018). In 2019-2021, central government environmental inspection teams are being sent out to solicit local information and complaints about pollution, inspecting firms that receive complaints, and working to resolve any identified problems. For the central inspection teams, an obvious practical challenge is how to identify problems within a brief visit to the local province. Indeed, the main source of information for inspectors is local citizens’ complaints, either through a phone hotline or by (postal) mail. From our conversation with inspectors, it is costly to verify complaints, and false or biased complaints (e.g. about a rival firm’s pollution) are not uncommon.
While plant-level, hourly emissions data in the CEMS are available, they are not being used systematically to inform inspectors. We have been collecting CEMS data since 2014. With pilot grant support from Columbia University, we are able to expand and build a real-time CEMS database. Leveraging these data is increasingly feasible in real time and could provide objective information and thereby increase the effectiveness of environmental inspections. We have already hired a data company to set an API to obtain data on a real-time basis in thirteen Chinese provinces: Anhui, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Fujian, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Shandong, and Zhejiang. The real-time database started in January 2019 and will continue to update on an hourly basis until 2022. Hourly concentrations are recorded for three air pollutants: SO2, NOx, and PM, and three water pollutants: COD, NH4, and PH.