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China: Environmental Protection Law Revised

(June 6, 2014) On April 24, 2014, China revised its Environmental Protection Law. The new Law will enter into effect on January 1, 2015. (Environmental Protection Law [in Chinese] (Apr. 25, 2014), The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China website; English translation available through Westlaw China online subscription database.)

This was the first time the Law has been revised since its enactment in December 1989. According to Xin Chunying, Deputy Director of the National People’s Congress Law Committee, China has passed, in addition to the Environmental Protection Law itself, about 30 laws, 90 administrative regulations, and a lot of environmental standards over the years. China’s environmental problems are not because of a lack of environmental protection rules, Xin commented, but some rules have lagged “behind the practice” and are no longer workable. (Peng Bo & Mao Lei, Huanbao Fa 25 Nian Shouci Daxiu [First Major Revision of the Environmental Protection Law in 25 Years], PEOPLE.CN (Apr. 25, 2014).)

The original 47-article Environmental Protection Law has now been expanded to 70 articles. Some basic environmental protection rules for the country, including those on environmental planning, standards, and monitoring, have been updated. (Id.)

Highlights of the Law include:

Increased Penalties: Fines on a Daily Basis

According to the new Law, if a polluter does not make a correction as ordered by the government authority, the authority has the power to impose a fine on a daily basis, starting from the day after the order of correction was made and based on the original fine imposed. This penalty is apparently more severe than that in the previous version of the Law, in which a one-time penalty was imposed on each illegal activity. (Environmental Protection Law, art. 59; Guoqiang Chen, Opinion: Get Ready for New Environment Laws, CHINA LAW AND PRACTICE (May/June 2014), available online by subscription.)

Public Interest Litigation Clearly Regulated

Rules on public interest litigation against polluting activities, such as who may qualify as a plaintiff in such litigation, have been vague under Chinese law. The new Law contains a specific provision on this issue. According to article 58 of the Law, social organizations satisfying the following conditions may file lawsuits with the courts against acts that pollute the environment or cause ecological damage that harms the public interest:

(1) The groups must be registered with a government civil affairs department at or above the level of a city with districts; and

(2) The groups must have been engaged specifically in public service activities in environmental protection for five consecutive years without any record of violation of laws.

The new Environmental Protection Law also states that such social organizations filing public interest lawsuits must not make use of suits to seek economic benefits. (Environmental Protection Law, art. 58.)

In addition to the Environmental Protection Law, the National People’s Congress will also revise other major pieces of environmental legislation, including the Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Air Pollution and the Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Water Pollution. A new Law on Prevention and Treatment of Soil Pollution is being considered by the top legislative body. (Guoqiang Chen, Opinion: Get Ready for New Environment Laws, supra.)