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    Rush to Ban Coal Resulted in Rash Moves, Officials Admit

    Hebei government concedes shift from coal to gas this winter has led to shortages and price surges.

    Officials involved in northern China’s aggressive coal ban have acknowledged that the shift to cleaner energy this winter has been rushed, China Youth Daily reported Tuesday.

    Beijing, too, has fired up previously closed coal power plants to relieve the region’s gas supply shortage, despite the city’s blue-sky dreams.

    At a joint press conference with the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) on Monday, government officials from Hebei province admitted to inadequate deliberation in implementing the coal ban, though they also emphasized that the policy has been crucial for improving air quality.

    “The project progressed really fast, but it led to the problem of gas shortages,” Jiao Shiqing, a director from the Hebei Provincial Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said at the conference.

    In February, the MEP included eight cities in Hebei in a 28-city pilot program to control coal consumption, with the overall aim of reducing air pollution. By the end of October, more than 3 million households had to stop burning coal and turn to gas or electricity for their heating needs.

    Hebei’s cities had the most ambitious goals of any included in program, and according to Jiao, more than 1.8 million of households switched from coal to gas heating, reaching the target set by the provincial government at the beginning of the year for shifting to gas or electricity.

    But as the project plowed ahead, issues resulting from imprudent implementation became apparent: Gas shortages, surging gas prices, unfinished pipelines, and schools and homes left without heating in the icy winter filled news headlines.

    On Thursday, the MEP issued an urgent notice allowing coal usage if gas or electric heating wasn’t yet operational, while Beijing resurrected coal power plants that had been shut since 2014 as part of zero-coal targets in the city.

    Last week, Party newspaper People’s Daily published a commentary on the coal ban campaign, urging local governments to be prudent and practical when implementing such sweeping public policy.

    Outspoken public commentator Sun Liping, a professor of sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, wrote in an article on social app WeChat that the main problem is that people behind the project have an all-or-nothing approach, believing that they’re “launching a movement.”

    “To achieve the goal, one must push ahead regardless of the costs,” Sun said, describing the policymakers’ mindset. “For both society and the government, the price is high.”

    Editor: Qian Jinghua.

    (Header image: A woman passes by a power plant in Dezhou, Shandong province, Feb. 19, 2010. Zhan Min/VCG)