U.S., China Move Forward on Environment, Energy Issues

By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - More than 30 ministerial officials from the United States and China reached consensus on a range of energy and environmental issues during the May 22-23 Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), the second such meeting held to address shared priorities and concerns.

At May 23 press briefing, U.S. officials said the countries agreed to collaborate on methane capture from coal mines and other clean-coal technologies, address illegal logging and fishing, and reduce or eliminate trade barriers. (See related article.)

The SED will help “integrate energy and environment issues into a broader economic strategy” and bolster the relationship between two of the world’s largest energy users, said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

During the meeting, U.S. and Chinese officials agreed to work together as part of the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of trade negotiations, Connaughton said, to discuss reducing or eliminating tariff and nontariff barriers to environmental goods and services. They also agreed to develop over the next five years up to 15 large-scale methane capture and use projects for coal mines in China.

Efforts to capture methane emissions from coal mines are particularly important, said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator for air and radiation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “because methane is a potent greenhouse gas pollutant, nearly 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

Although methane emissions are significantly lower than carbon dioxide (CO2) emission, “there are cost-effective opportunities to make great strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by targeting methane,” he said, adding that methane from capture projects under way in the United States and China can be used to produce energy and power.


China uses twice as much coal as the United States to power its economy and its growth. That number is expected to double by 2020, Connaughton said, “and we have a very active discussion under way about the future of clean coal in both countries.”

The United States and China agreed to provide policy incentives to promote the full commercialization of advanced coal technologies and advance commercial use of carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies.

In CO2 capture, carbon dioxide is collected from gaseous emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. The CO2 is stripped from captured emissions by chemical methods, and the CO2 can be reused or stored. In CO2 storage, the captured gases are injected underground into geologic formations like sandstone, limestone or old oil and gas fields, where they remain for centuries or longer. (See related article.)

Kathy Fredriksen of the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said DOE is launching a cooperation initiative with the Chinese to assess industrial efficiency. Its goal is to help China reach its energy conservation goal - a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2010.

The initiative will transfer DOE software to assist fuel-efficiency audits of China’s top 1,000 energy-consuming production facilities. DOE also plans to announce soon a U.S.-Chinese collaboration involving the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance biofuel technology.


China has one-tenth as many cars as the United States, Connaughton said, and by 2020 is expected to have the same number of vehicles as the United States, “so cleaning up our fuels is an area of common interest.”

“We in the United States have ... learned the hard way that improving the quality of fuel that’s burned produces benefits,” Wehrum said.

Cleaner fuel, he said, produces fewer emissions and makes it possible to use more advanced emissions control technologies like sophisticated catalytic converters.

“We’re working closely with the Chinese,” Wehrum added, “to seek opportunities to reduce constituents like sulfur in their diesel fuel supply in the interest of reducing emissions and improving public health.”


On the natural resources side of the discussion, Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, said: “We wanted to use the influence of the United States and China as producers and consumers of natural resources, and the products that come from them, as a way to show leadership and set an example for other countries around the world.”

Both nations, McMurray said, agreed to engage in a dialogue with the aim of producing a bilateral agreement on illegal logging by the end of this year.  Specifics include cooperation between U.S. and Chinese customs and police officials to share data so illegal activity can be tracked and stopped.

The hope is that the agreement will influence other countries to end their illegal logging practices, she added.

Both sides also agreed to work together to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, McMurray said.

More information about SED is available on the U.S. Treasury Department Web site.