Environmental Law Progress In China

We take it for granted in the United States that citizens can involve themselves in the environmental review of proposed projects, either on their own or with the help of organizations like NRDC. This has not been true in China, but things may be changing for the better.

As my colleague Barbara Finamore explained here, the Chinese government and Supreme People's Court are moving, for the first time, towards a system that allows public interest environmental litigation to be brought by certain non-governmental organizations in China. There is also an environmental review law in China, similar in some ways to our National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, but public involvement and enforcement have been spotty at best.

On April 14, 2015, the People's Daily reported that:

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) on Tuesday released a draft regulation, which allows non-governmental groups to participate in investigations of major pollution cases...According to the draft unveiled to solicit public opinion, environmental protection volunteers and representatives of such social organizations could be appointed as guest supervisors to keep an eye on environmental watchdogs' performance.

You can read an English-language translation of the MEP proposal here. The 2014 Environmental Protection Law (EPL) included a separate chapter regarding environmental information disclosure and public participation. The current MEP proposal is one of the supporting regulations providing detailed rules for the purpose of implementation of those general principles adopted in the new EPL. Though public participation in the environmental arena has been in place and in practice for years, the proposal provides standards/specifications by stipulating the scope, procedures and ways of public participation. The proposal appears to contemplate citizen involvement both in the operation of the environmental protection bureaucracy and the oversight of environmental review of individual polluters and construction projects.

Draft Article 16 provides:

Competent departments of environmental protection shall engage relevant experts, people's congress delegates, members of the political consultative conferences, members of democratic parties and persons without party affiliation, and representatives of environmental social organizations on environmental volunteers to serve as special inspectors, and conduct supervision of that department's and lower level competent department of environmental protection's work.

With respect to individual polluters and projects, draft Article 17 provides:

Competent departments of environmental protection shall engage representatives of social environmental organizations and environmental volunteers to serve as supervisors, supervising the environmental protection behaviors actions by enterprises, public institutions and other production operations and the environmental impact of construction projects.

These proposals are very positive steps forward in the context of environmental protection in China. NRDC will be submitting formal comments to encourage the thoroughness and openness of public participation as outlined by the MEP. Stay tuned for further developments.