China is reforming the way compensation is determined for environmental damage as legal cases involving pollution are increasing quickly and unified national assessment standards are needed, experts said.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection presented a draft reform plan to the national leadership this year and already has conducted pilot projects in several cities, according to a report released by the ministry on Aug 10.
The ministry will compile technical standards and general principles on environmental damage assessment to be used by agents in the field, and will create models to assess damage once pollution is found.
Unified codes and technical standards are urgently needed as cases involving environment pollution are climbing due to a low threshold for registering cases and growing attention from the public, said Ma Yong, a researcher working at a law center under the Supreme People’s Court’s environmental tribunal.
An objective and balanced assessment is essential to determining just compensation, but the current system is unworkable, Ma said on Aug 10.
“Assessments on the same environmental pollution case made by different agents can be quite different, creating a challenge for the courts trying to make a determination,” he said.
A farmer in Zibo, Shandong province, for example, sued a nearby chemical plant for polluting his orchards and nursery seeds in 1994. Disagreements on the damage assessment and compensation plan have delayed the case’s conclusion and it is still open this year, he said.
Chang Jiwen, a researcher on environmental policies at the Development Research Center of the State Council, said the connection between the environmental authority and the judiciary is not ideal, especially in the area of damage assessment.
In addition to the unified technical standards and models, the ministry also will promote a better connection between the two authorities in the future and organize an expert committee on environmental damage assessment. The committee will include experts from many related fields including environmental and engineering, said Chang who has attended the preparation meetings.
The ministry also will guide local governments and agents to do assessments to establish cases that can be used as examples.
One such assessment involves pollution in the Tengger Desert in northern China. In March, Ronghua Industry & Trade Co, located in Gansu province, discharged untreated sewage and contaminated about 18 hectares, causing damage estimated at 3.56 million yuan ($573,000).
The company was fined 3 million yuan and paid an extra 180,000 yuan in discharge fees, the provincial government said.