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Stronger pollution law takes effect this week

Zheng Jinran
Updated: Dec 31,2014 7:46 AM     China Daily

The revised Environmental Protection Law that takes effect on Jan 1 imposes more severe fines and even comes with the possibility of criminal charges against polluters.

In addition, supplementary regulations are on the way to make implementation more effective, the top environmental watchdog said on Dec 30.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has listed 54 projects to support the implementation of the new law. Five regulations covering the release of information and daily fines for pollution were released in 2014, said Zhai Qing, deputy minister.

“The new law will tackle problems such as light punishments of polluting companies,” Zhai said.

Under the revised law, polluters will pay daily fines for violations, with no limit. Also, environmental impact assessment agencies will be held jointly liable with the polluters if the reports they provide have been fabricated.

In addition to the severe penalties on polluters and other companies involved, the ministry will strengthen cooperation with judicial departments to manage pollution cases.

In the first three quarters, the ministry transferred 1,232 pollution cases to courts at all levels, and the total number of cases for the year is expected to double that of 2013, Zhai said.

Courts specializing in hearing environmental disputes have increased quickly since the Supreme People’s Court set up the so-called green tribunals in June. Cases reached 369 as of Dec 9, said Du Wanhua, a senior judge of the court.

“The ministry and the Supreme People’s Court have worked smoothly to develop judicial guidance for public welfare lawsuits,” said Zhai, the deputy minister.

Du added that some other guidance documents, dealing with damage compensation, for example, are also under discussion. These documents would be legally binding and support the implementation of the principles stipulated in the revised law.

There will be obvious improvements in environmental social organization if the judicial guidance documents are released, since most of the lawsuits involved with pollution are related to the public welfare, said Wang Canfa, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law who participated in drafting the documents.

“But there are some limits because of the high threshold on the non-governmental organizations,” he said, adding that NGOs should have no criminal record in five years.

But the revised law, together with the judicial guidance, can solve problems to some degree, he said.

Undergoing its first changes in 25 years, the law passed review by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in April after four draft versions over nearly two years.

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