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Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution: Challenges for China and the United States
LESSONS FROM CITIES
In the United States, many cities, including Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, have successfully implemented policies and technologies to reduce various emissions and to improve air quality. Local pollution prevention measures showed benefits as early as the 1940s in Pittsburgh, when smoke controls in place likely saved the city from a severe air pollution episode that caused loss of life in nearby Donora. Civil society played an important role in Pittsburgh’s approach to air quality management. Early activist groups raised awareness of air pollution issues and paved the way for an open stakeholder process which allowed NGOs, such as the Group Against Smog and Pollution, to take part in policy formulation.
Pittsburgh has diversified its economy since its industrial prime. As local pollution sources have been cleaned up or closed down, the city has focused more on regional pollution issues such as O3 and PM2.5. Indeed, as many U.S. cities remediated local air pollution problems, it became apparent that some issues required regional solutions, as current pollution levels derive from a variety of energy uses and sectors on local and regional scales. All of these sectors must participate in solutions to pollution. As demonstrated in Los Angeles, emission controls can be applied to many small and medium-size sources that collectively have a large effect on pollution levels. Federal intervention often leads to local regulations to solve what are ultimately regional challenges. Air pollution does not obey boundaries, and while many Chinese cities are pointing out the impact that regional pollution has on local conditions, to date there have been few examples of regional cooperation. In the United States, the Los Angeles situation is more common, where regional and statewide organizations such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Air Resources Board both play critical and complementary roles in air quality management.
Both U.S. and Chinese cities have benefited from research, development, and technology transfer efforts in their universities, research institutes, and professional associations. These efforts also provide local expertise for states and provinces and train professionals needed for regulatory, industrial, and educational enterprises. Pittsburgh and Los Angeles both continue to rely on their local universities and research institutes to address emerging challenges in energy and air pollution. An ongoing challenge for many U.S. cities is that U.S. transportation and economic development policies have created the need to drive long distances, resulting in high personal vehicle use and automobile emissions. A similar pattern is now occurring in many Chinese cities, and their response has been to build more roads to alleviate congestion. The rapid growth of traffic in Dalian and in similar Chinese cities will repeat the air quality and energy consumption mistakes of Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, if not better managed. Chinese cities can benefit from their greater densities (relative to most U.S. cities) and take steps to limit the need for personal vehicle use, as the cities continue to grow. Some U.S. cities are attempting to undo the effects of their sprawling development, but these efforts are slow and costly.