A draft amendment to the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law, which was deliberated by Chinese lawmakers on Sunday, significantly raises fines for enterprises failing to fulfill pollution control duties.
The draft was submitted for second review to the 31st session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), or China's top legislature.
It lifted the restriction on the maximum amount of fines for enterprises blamed for discharging pollutants surpassing the set standard.
It said fines for such businesses would vary from twice to five times the pollutant discharging fees they should pay according to the severity of the violations.
Enterprises who failed to rectify the situation within a fixed time would be closed, according to the NPC's Law Committee.
The previous draft amendment, which was submitted to the top legislature for first review in August, stipulated the amount of pollutants discharged into water by a factory should not exceed the limit set by national or local regulations. Offenders would be fined 100,000 yuan (US$13,500) to 1 million yuan.
The NPC's Law Committee, in an explanation of the draft, said: "The amount of fines should be imposed according to the severity of violations, and too little money cannot effectively tackle the long-standing problem of 'low violation cost'."
Inexpensive fines against polluters have been open to debate in China as many said they couldn't effectively curb environmental violations.
Environmental officials said that compared with the economic benefits of illegally discharged pollutants, the current level of financial punishment was "a drop in the bucket" for most enterprises.
The draft said victims of water pollution incidents were entitled to get compensation from polluters. The compensation could be more "expensive" for polluters than the fines, the Law Committee said, noting that would further augment their "violation cost."
In such disputes, agents concerned could entrust environmental monitoring institutions to provide relevant data. Such institutions should accept such entrustment and provide authentic statistics, according to the draft.
The amendment also encouraged legal institutions to provide legal aid to victims in cases where compensation was sought.
The draft amendment also provides for the setting up of an ecological compensation system for drinking water resources.
The draft says China will set up an ecological compensation system for water environment by ways including giving transfer payment to economically underdeveloped regions around drinking water resources or in upper reaches of rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
"It is necessary to effectively solve the conflict between drinking water protection and social economic development," the NPC's Law Committee said in an explanation of the draft.
It is because that to strictly control human activities around drinking water resources will inevitably impede the economic and social development of those places.
Though the system has been supported by the State Council, it is better to define through lawmaking its scope, subjects and methods in a bid to adjust the interests between ecological protection and economic construction, the Law Committee explained.
The SEPA had been studying the compensation system since the 1990s. So far, it has piloted ecology compensation fee collection programs in 24 state-level natural reserves in 685 counties of 11 provinces.
In September this year, the SEPA issued a document, announcing that the country will launch a pilot program for a national ecological compensation system for natural reserves, mineral resources, and rivers.
Government held accountable
Efforts to protect water environment will be taken as an assessment of government performance, according to the draft.
It said local governments should set target for water environment protection and undergo certain evaluation. Failure or success in achieving environmental targets will be an important assessment of local government performance.
Water pollution is one of the biggest environmental concerns for both the government and public.
A 2006 survey revealed China's surface water generally suffered from medium pollution. One third of the 744 samples tested were graded "V", the worst pollution rating.
According to SEPA statistics, the administration handled 161 emergency environmental pollution incidents in 2006, 59 percent of which involved water pollution.
All About Water pollution, Drinking water
(Xinhua News Agency December 24, 2007)