China's steel heartland tests mills' mettle with new smog-busting plan
“Push the steel mills out of the city center and turn it into a modern, habitable place to live in,” reads a banner hung across the boarded-up offices of Guofeng Iron and Steel Co in the center of Tangshan, China’s top steelmaking city.
Behind the gates of the factory, surrounded by a hospital, a shopping mall and high-rise apartment blocks, workers and bulldozers were busy on a recent visit tearing down furnaces as part of a 38 billion yuan ($5.5 billion) plan to move to a new industrial park 60 kilometers (37 miles) away.
Six hours drive away to the southwest, meanwhile, executives at Hebei Xinjin Iron & Steel Co, a Handan-based medium-size mill, are scrambling to find a new site in the south after being served notice to leave their home province last month.
The two steelmakers are among the first producers in Hebei province to comply with the local government’s latest audacious plan to make its smoke-stack industries more efficient and clean the notoriously toxic air of the northern industrial heartland.
Provincial authorities ordered mills, including some owned by HBIS Group, the world’s fourth largest steelmaker, in almost a dozen of its smoggiest cities to shut, move to a new industrial park on the coast or get out.
The moves, detailed in a document published on the province’s website in July but not previously reported, mark a new front in the government’s years-long war on pollution and outdated excess capacity in heavy industry, heralding even more upheaval for the debt-laden steel sector.