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Chinese Court Clears the Way For Environmentalists to Bring Suit

RP Siegel headshotWords by RP Siegel
Leadership & Transparency
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The news from China seems to be improving. First, the Asian nation agreed to target peak carbon emissions and produce 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. Now China is beginning to take action on pollution, a problem that has become quite severe.

The Chinese Supreme People’s Court just announced that it will reduce the court fees required for environmental groups to bring lawsuits against polluters. The ruling applies specifically to “social organizations involved in public interest litigation” targeting environmental concerns.

Litigation fees are one of the many ways that a government can tilt the playing field one way or another in the continuing conflict between industry and those concerned with protecting the environment for future generations. High court costs make it difficult for small nonprofit groups or individuals to defend their interests in court. This new development will make it easier to hold polluters accountable.

Environmental groups in China are registered and regulated, and there are more than 700 of them. Yet air quality in China is among the worst in the world: Data collected by the U.S. State Department showed that air quality in Beijing only met U.S. standards for healthy air, which require a reading below 35 micrograms per cubic meter, 21 percent of the days in the year. The annual average was 99.4 micrograms. The good news is that the trend shows that emissions declined from last year, but only by a modest 3.3 percent. While the average improved slightly, there were actually 24 “hazardous” days last year, compared with 23 the year before.

The court’s action likely reflected the sentiments of Premier Li Keqiang, who officially declared war on the Chinese smog problem last March. The war plan includes banning high-emissions vehicles and shutting down some coal plants. It might also include the use of smog-clearing drones that are currently in development. The drones will use a parafoil-type design to disperse smog-clearing chemicals that react with the smog particles, causing them to drop to the ground.

But smog is not China’s only pollution problem. The water there is also quite contaminated. China’s own Ministry of Land and Resources, after monitoring close to 5,000 sites in over 200 cities, has proclaimed that nearly 60 percent of all underground water is not safe to drink. In Lanzhou, benzene -- a known carcinogen -- was found in the drinking water, and the taps were turned off for a time. Water officials there blamed industrial pollution.

As evidence of the new crackdown, the Chinese court ordered six chemical and pharmaceutical companies to pay $26 million in fines for discharging acid into the Rutai Canal and Gumagan River at sites near a densely populated area. Those are the largest fines ever levied by a Chinese court for pollution. The lawsuit was brought by Taizhou City Environmental Protection Association, a public interest group that was only established in February. The chairman, Tian Jun, is also the head of Taizhou’s Environmental Protection Bureau.

The fact that the government is now taking serious action will be a major relief to everyone who lives there. And it will force all companies to take the issue seriously whether they had previously been inclined to do so or not.

Image credit: Amjad Hamid: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand. RP recently won the Masdar Blogging Competition and willing be  attending Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

 

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