Consider, for just a moment, California's obsessive compulsions about air pollution.

Recently, for example, top officials of the California Air Resources Board were fired or quit in a huff amid accusations that the state was not doing enough fast enough to curb pollution. And this in a state that has been among the toughest place on the planet for air pollution and about to get tougher.

Another example: A couple weeks ago, the Business Journal reported that Democrats in the state Senate are trying to force construction contractors that work on projects funded by last year's infrastructure bonds to install special pollution filters on bulldozers and similar diesel equipment. Since those filters cost up to $50,000 each, it means a mid-sized contractor could get dinged $1 million or so for the privilege of working on a state project. (Those costs will be borne largely by taxpayers, since contractors would build those extra costs into their bids.)

Now, take another moment and consider what's going on in China.

Every week or two, another coal-fired power plant opens in China. Hundreds more are under construction. No one knows for sure because an estimated one-fifth of China's power plants are illegal.

Few of China's plants new or old have anything like modern pollution-control filters. As a result, so much soot gets dumped into the air that it forms dark clouds that sometimes find their way across the Pacific Ocean and settle on the mountains of the West Coast. A New York Times article last year quoted a professor saying that pollution from China already is making it harder and more expensive for West Coast cities to meet stringent air standards.

That same article said the coal-producing region in north-central China has a Dickensian feel. "Roads are covered in coal tar; houses are coated with soot; miners, their faces smeared almost entirely black, haul carts full of coal rocks; the air is thick with the smell of burning coal."

Of course, many say the United States shouldn't throw stones, since it is the biggest polluter. But they can't say that any more. The Guardian reported last month that China has surpassed the United States as the No. 1 emitter of carbon dioxide. Many so-called experts had predicted that wouldn't happen for years.

All this pollution is killing the Chinese, although the number is in question. The World Bank reportedly censored an article last week that would have said 750,000 people die each year in China as a result of pollution-related illnesses.

What's more, any greenhouse gas savings from the Kyoto protocol is expected to be overwhelmed several fold just because of increased emissions from China.

The point is, China is wantonly spewing untold tons of pollutants while we're wringing our hands in California, forcing taxpayers and businesses to pay millions to filter a tad more pollution and making politically charged accusations that some aren't "doing enough."

I won't ask if the U.S. government was correct in snubbing the Kyoto protocol for letting China and a few other developing countries essentially sidestep the Kyoto rules. But I will ask this: Should California continue to accelerate its quest to cut more pollution and impose costs on its citizens in the face of such pollution from others? Would our efforts be better spent trying to get China to stop polluting so much that it is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its people and sending its emissions to our shores?

Just something to consider.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com .

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