China is infamous for its dangerously high levels of air pollution, and now one man is suing the government for failing to reduce the toxic smog.
Li Guixin, who lives in a major industrial region of northern China surrounding Beijing, filed a complaint with a district court, urging the city’s environmental department to improve its efforts to control air pollution, Reuters reported last week. Li is the first person to bring such a lawsuit forward against the government.
Li also requested 10,000 yuan ($1,635) in compensation for face masks, an air filter and a treadmill to exercise indoors in December when air quality is particularly bad, according to Bloomberg News.
“The reason that I’m proposing administrative compensation is to let every citizen see that amid this haze, we’re the real victims,” Li told the state-run Yanzhao Metropolis Daily, the BBC reported. “Besides the threat to our health, we’ve also suffered economic losses, and these losses should be borne by the government and the environmental departments because the government is the recipient of corporate taxes: It is a beneficiary.”
The smog levels in Li’s hometown of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province regularly top levels considered to be hazardous by the World Health Organization, according to the BBC. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection ranked Shijiazhuang as one of the 10 cities with the worst air pollution in the country, Bloomberg News reported.
“Li Guixin couldn’t take a walk or run like the past as air quality worsened, and he also has to wear a mask now when he goes out,” Li’s attorney Wu Yufen told Bloomberg News. “His case is relevant for everyone in our city.”
The Chinese government said in September that it planned to curb air pollution by closing outdated steel and cement facilities and reducing its use of coal in Hebei province, Reuters reported.
While it is unclear if Li’s case will even make it to trial (the BBC noted that the suit has already been rejected by several high courts), it is an interesting example of the Chinese government being forced to face the externalities of its recent economic growth. Will the government be required to compensate Li for health effects caused by the air pollution it failed to regulate, or should the companies with the factories actually spewing out the smog be forced to pay?
Li’s grievance with country’s air pollution also represents a growing concern among average Chinese citizens about the environmental cost the country’s economic growth has brought. Much like the environmental protests in the U.S. in the late ‘60s that led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and landmark legislation like the Clean Air and Water Acts, perhaps Li’s lawsuit is a baby step towards building a grassroots movement that changes the way China regulates and manages its environmental resources.
Image credit: Flickr/woggle
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru