On 24 April 2014, the National People's Congress adopted the Amendment to the PRC Environmental Protection Law (“EPL Amendment”). The EPL was enacted 25 years ago and is now amended for the first time. The EPL Amendment will become effective on 1 January 2015. Prior to the issuance of the EPL Amendment, four drafts were published for public opinions. We set out below the major changes brought about.
1. Stricter penalties for repeated illegal acts
- The EPL Amendment newly adopts a “daily fine” approach. If an enterprise discharges waste illegally (for example, discharges waste without permission) and fails to make rectification after being fined by the competent environmental protection bureau (“EPB”), it will be further imposed with a daily fine of the same amount as the original fine until it stops its illegal behavior. Prior to the EPL Amendment, only a few local regulations provided a legal basis for penalties on such repeated illegal discharging activities. For the first time such penalties are now also stipulated at the national level
- Under the EPL Amendment, in case an enterprise refuses to follow certain punishment decisions of the competent EPB, the person-in-charge of such enterprise can be detained for up to 15 days.
- The EPL Amendment empowers the competent EPB to confiscate facilities and equipment of an enterprise which causes pollutant emissions.
- In addition, the EPL Amendment will also establish a “blacklist system” for those enterprises which violate the law. The illegal activities of such enterprises will be recorded and announced in public.
2. Environmental public interest litigation
Public interest litigation in environmental protection issues was already introduced in the Amendment to PRC Civil Procedures Law in 2012. However, so far it was not clear who qualified as plaintiff. Now, for the first time, the EPL Amendment specifies the scope of potential plaintiffs which can initiate environmental public interest litigation. Possible plaintiffs are social organizations registered with the civil affairs department at city level or above. Such social organizations shall be specialized in environmental protection activities for five or more consecutive years and shall not have any bad record.
3. Disclosure of pollution information and public participation
The EPL Amendment introduces a new chapter on environmental information disclosure and public participation. Key pollutant discharging enterprises (designated by the local EPB in accordance with the enterprise’s discharge capacity) are required to disclose their key pollutants, discharge method, discharge density and total discharge quantity, etc to the public. Where a construction project may cause significant environmental impacts, a public participation process is required to be carried out during the environmental impact appraisal procedures.
Given the current alarming situation of air, water and soil pollution in China, the Chinese government attaches greater importance on environmental protection. However, taking into regard the current status of the pollution, the measures newly introduced by the EPL Amendment still seem to be rather lenient. Also, it remains to be seen to which extent these stricter regulations are really implemented by the local authorities in practice. Nevertheless, manufacturing companies are well advised to check their environmental protection compliance status.