Polluters might face bigger fines

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The draft has raised the upper limits of a series of penalties, including the fine for illegally discharging airborne pollutants, from 200,000 yuan to 1 million yuan, and the fine for burning straw or leaves in restricted areas from 200 yuan to 2,000 yuan.

"The current fine for enterprises' illegal emissions is low, sometime even lower than the money the bosses spend on a meal," Chai said.

This has been the second time the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act has been revised since 2000, when it was implemented. A second revision is unusual compared with many other laws in China, some of which haven't changed since the 1980s.

But even if all the suggestions made by the new draft were accepted in the act's new version, the law would still not be labeled as "advanced" compared with other such laws worldwide, experts said.

"The penalty was calculated by day with no cap in the first version of a similar law in California that dates back to the 1970s," said Elaine Chang, deputy executive officer at the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

"The enaction of the standards followed only one criteria: people's health standards. Economic factors were taken into account only during the implementation process of the plan, when we set goals for different time periods," Chang said.

"If the exhaust emissions exceed the yearly standard set by the state, we will count it as 365 days," Chang said. "In severe cases, the company's license will be revoked."

Wang Canfa, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said environmental laws should follow some basic principles: health first; allowing no more environmental deterioration; and adhering to the principle that lawbreakers must not benefit from their illegal behavior.

Chai, from the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, said the Environmental Protection Ministry has been working on revising the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act since 2008. The first draft was given to the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office in January 2010 but has been there since then.

The air pollution law was first listed in the first category of the top legislative body's agenda in 2008, which means lawmakers were planning to revise it within the five years of their term. The draft, however, has seen little progress since then.



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