China to put environmental protection above economy with proposed anti-pollution laws

Out-Law News | 16 Apr 2014 | 11:01 am | 1 min. read

China's environmental regulators will gain greater powers under proposed new laws which will prioritise the environment above the economy, Reuters has reported.

Amendments to China's Environmental Protection Law are expected to ban industrial development in some regions, according to academics involved in the drafting of new laws, Reuters said.

"[Upholding] environmental protection as the fundamental principle is a huge change, and emphasises that the environment is a priority," said Cao Mingde, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, who has been involved in drafting the revisions which are designed to give the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) more stringent powers.

The draft legislation, which is due to be discussed at a meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee later this month, follows growing concern at government level about pollution in China, particularly in Beijing which has experienced chronic high levels of smog pollution in recent months. Last year the government pledged to steer local governments away from a "growth-at-all-costs" economic model, designed to help alleviate pollution problems. Earlier this year a report by the Beijing-based Social Science Academic Press and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences ranked the Chinese capital second worst out of 40 global cities for its environmental conditions and "barely suitable" for living, according to Reuters. The government has since pledged to "declare war" on pollution.

According to Reuters the proposed legislation, which is in its fourth draft, provides for a more comprehensive range of punishments against polluters. The current system of maximum fines, which allows enterprises to continue polluting after settling a one-off payment, would come to an end under the new proposals.

Cao told Reuters that the measures are likely to include an "ecological red line" that will set designated protected regions off-limits to industries which cause pollution.

The legislation also proposes to formalise a system which would see local cadres – or officials - assessed according to their record on pollution issues, including meeting emissions targets.

Polluters could also be required to provide comprehensive and real-time emissions data and those found guilty of attempting to evade pollution monitoring systems could face criminal penalties.