China Admires U.S. Smog Laws

Searching for ways to reduce pollution, China’s top officials look to American law for examples.

The Environmental Protection Agency may be getting a lot of flak these days in American politics—Ted Cruz has called it a job killer, while others have criticized its performance in Flint, Michigan—but in China it’s looked at as a model of good government.

"Chinese policymakers and scholars look at the U.S. in great admiration,” said Dali L. Yang, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “because they think actually we did the right thing in using the Clean Air and Clean Water acts to sort of empower the EPA to act as it does."

In China, where severe air pollution kills an estimated 1.6 million people a year, officials have become increasingly desperate to rein in the smog—not only for their citizens, but for themselves. In Beijing, where the nation’s top leaders live and work, the first-ever “red alert” for air quality was issued this past December.

So officials have made efforts to clear the air, Yang says. China has pledged to cap its greenhouse emissions by 2030. In 2017, it plans to start a national cap-and-trade program. None of these changes go as far as the Clean Air Act, but Yang says they’re a start.

“The air quality in China has improved,” Yang said. “Most people don’t realize it, but in fact there has been concerted action in the last three years.”