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Revision gives teeth to antipollution law

Zheng Jinran
Updated: Jan 12,2015 7:51 AM     China Daily

As part of the country’s efforts to curb air pollution, a series of laws and regulations was rolled out last year to help provide a legal foundation for the cleanup campaign.

The Environmental Protection Law, which took effect on Jan 1, has increased the responsibility of local governments in dealing with environmental problems and given them unprecedented power.

The revised law, approved by the National People’s Congress on April 24, is the first revision in 25 years. It is based on 10 years of research and study, and it involved four draft versions over a period of nearly two years.

It stipulates details on the supervisory duties of local government bodies, especially environmental protection departments. These include conducting on-site checks of polluting enterprises and closing down and seizing facilities that cause severe pollution.

Polluters are also liable to pay unlimited daily fines for violations, making the revised law stricter than previous versions.

“It will increase the penalties for pollution greatly, which will deter some companies,” said Wang Canfa, a professor of environmental law at China University of Political Science and Law who participated in forming the draft.

He cited the example of Chongqing, which has meted out similar fines on polluters since 2007. Before harsh fines were implemented, only 4.8 percent of polluting companies exposed would rectify their environmentally harmful activities, since they earned more by continuing such practices.

But 95.5 percent of such companies took action to stop their polluting practices before authorities began implementing the new daily fines.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has listed 54 regulations to implement the revised law. Five regulations covering the release of information and daily fines for pollution were released last year, said Zhai Qing, deputy minister.

In December, the nation’s top legislature also reviewed the first amendment to the Law on Air Pollution Prevention and Control since 2000.

The new draft has details on dealing with various pollution sources, including the required use of advanced equipment and technology in production, instructions on how to monitor vehicle exhaust, and bans on importing coal that emits unacceptable levels of pollution.

The draft will also impose emission caps on the whole country. The current antipollution law has caps in only 11.4 percent of the nation.

The efforts in drafting laws and guidance to curb air pollution go beyond the cooperation between the ministry and the top legislature to involve more groups.

The ministry and the Supreme People’s Court have worked to develop judicial guidance for public welfare lawsuits, said Zhai, adding that without supplementary laws and documents, the revised law would be toothless.

The court will release other legally binding guidelines this year to support the implementation of the revised law.

The State Council also released a circular in November to launch a yearlong comprehensive inspection, requiring governments at all levels to complete thorough checks on enterprises that discharge pollutants by 2016.

The circular will also focus on the implementation of environmental law and regulations, with zero tolerance for any violations and harsher punishment for officials who fail to protect the environment.

“Several other laws including pollution prevention in the air, water and soil are on the agenda. All are aimed at protecting the environment,” said Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian.