Draft amendment has polluters in its sights

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 22, 2014
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Heavier punishments for polluters are advocated in a draft amendment to China's Environmental Protection Law which was submitted for its fourth reading yesterday.

Explaining the draft to members of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Zhang Mingqi, vice-chairman of its law committee, said the draft followed lawmakers' comments during the third reading that current penalties were too lenient.

The new draft stipulates that enterprises will be named and shamed for breaking environmental protection laws.

People in positions of responsibility would face up to 15 days' detention if their enterprises dodged environmental impact assessments and refused to suspend production after being issued a ban; failed to obtain a pollutant discharge permit but discharged pollutants, and refused to suspend discharges after a ban was issued; or if they shirked supervision through means including forging monitoring data or improperly operating pollution prevention equipment. The length of detention would depend on the impact of their wrongdoing.

They would face the same punishment if their enterprises produced or used forbidden pesticides and refused to make corrections.

The draft also proposes that organizations in charge of environmental assessments and supervision would bear joint liability if they engaged in fraud.

China's Environmental Protection Law has not been revised since it took effect in 1989. The first reading of the draft amendment was in August 2012.

It is rare in China for a law or amendment to go through three readings and not be passed, highlighting the importance of the draft in China's pursuit of sustainable development and public scrutiny of the law.

According to the draft, if enterprises illegally discharge pollutants, causing or possibly causing severe pollution, environmental administrative bodies of governments at county level or above would have the right to seal and confiscate equipment.

Zhang said the draft also aimed to hone citizens' environmental awareness. It says citizens should adopt a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle and perform environmental protection duties, and nominates June 5 as Environment Day.

If the draft is passed, the public will be encouraged to observe environmental protection laws and make their own efforts in this regard, including sorting their garbage for recycling.

The draft also says the country should promote environmentally friendly production.

Local governments should establish an early warning mechanism for environmental pollution and map out counter-plans. When the environment is polluted, early warning should be released to the public in a timely manner and emergency measures initiated.

Zhang said the new draft highlighted protection for whistleblowers on environmental issues, as lawmakers pointed out during the third reading that, in practice, many informants suffered retaliation. A clause has been added saying that departments which receive tip-offs should keep whistleblowers' information confidential and protect their rights.

Another significant change is an expansion of the range of subjects of public interest litigation on environmental issues.

By promoting public interest litigation, it is hoped that the public's appeal for a better environment can be addressed through the rule of law, instead of resorting to protests.

China has faced increasing protests over environmental issues. Many cities have seen residents take to the streets against paraxylene projects, which they believe to be a threat to the environment and public health. In many cases, the projects in question were later suspended.

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