Draft law: Clean up air or pay fine
Updated: 2014-01-16 07:09
By Wu Wencong (China Daily)
Ministry targets local govts whose environmental management is 'weak'
Local governments may face fines and administrative punishments if they fail to tackle air pollution, according to the latest draft of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act.
The draft, proposed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, will be submitted to the central government early this year before going to the National People's Congress, officials and experts said.
"Previous laws tended to have more requirements for enterprises than for governments," said Chai Fahe, vice-president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, who worked on the draft. "What we are discussing now is how to punish the latter for weak management."
He said local governments that fail to meet emission reduction targets set by the central government, such as a 25 percent reduction of fine particles by 2017 from the 2012 levels set for Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei provinces could face punishment.
Liaoning in the northeast is the first province to fine city-level governments for causing air pollution.
In early December, eight cities were ordered to pay a combined 54.2 million yuan ($8.96 million) for emitting major pollutants in excess of the national standard between May 2012 and October 2013. The money will be used on air pollution control, the provincial authority said.
Wang Jian, deputy director of the Pollution Prevention and Control Department, said such measures remain controversial, although he recognized their positive role in management innovation.
Chai, on the other hand, said it was a move in the right direction.
"There are cases of local governments in foreign countries going broke, why can't we fine ours that are remiss?" he said.
He added that money collected in fines is spent on air pollution control, not for pay raises.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, an NGO, acknowledged the measure as a possibly effective way of imposing economic sanctions, but emphasized that aside from Chai's worries, another two preconditions have to be met to make the measure work: the penalty has to be large, and the public should know how the money is used.
"The amount is not big enough in Liaoning's case," Ma said. "Compared with the investment of billions brought by polluting projects that local governments are trying to protect in most cases, 50 million is too little."
Revision of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act, implemented in 2000, started in 2006. More progress was made in March, when experts said the upper limit of fines for pollution was removed and a system of fining local governments 10,000 yuan a day until the illegal behavior ends was introduced.
Chai said the new draft kept this part. He said the first chapter will identify the roles, functions, responsibilities and obligations of every unit in society in tackling air pollution, including individuals, industries, enterprises and governments.
The part about individual duties involves cutting personal emissions, joining in and supervising ambient atmospheric protection, Chai said.
Another highlight of the draft is the introduction of a chapter on emergency management in response to severe pollution days, he said.
After the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan, which is the most important environmental document of 2013 as it vowed to bring "visible changes" to air quality by the end of 2017, two similar action plans targeting water pollution and soil pollution will be released in 2014.
The Clean Water Action Plan will be submitted to the State Council for examination and approval after a last round of discussion within the ministry, Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian said at the 2014 national environmental conference on Thursday.
"The water plan features protection of drinking water sources, and wiping out all waters from the most polluted list," he said.
Meanwhile, the Soil Protection and Pollution Control Action Plan has three major targets - adjusting crop planting on the most polluted farmland, remediation of contaminated land and setting up demonstration sites for soil pollution prevention and control.
People in air-filtering masks gather on Shanghai's waterfront on Dec 26, a particularly hazy day. Eight cities were punished in December for air pollution. Aly Song / Reuters