China to start making polluters pay to clean up their mess
Nationwide programme to make firms foot the bill for clean-up operations to be introduced after pilot scheme ran in several provinces
China will introduce a nationwide scheme to force polluters to pay for the damage they cause as the latest step in the government’s campaign to tackle the problem.
The central government announced late on Sunday that the new scheme, which builds on a pilot programme that ran in six provinces and a municipality, will start on January 1 and aims to fully establish the compensation system by 2020.
Companies responsible for major pollution incidents will be required to clean up their own mess or compensate the local government for doing the work. They could also be fined for the damage caused to the environment.
“The reform will change the situation where the companies pollute, the people suffer, and the government pays the bill,” a spokesman with the environmental protection ministry said .
He raised the incident of the 2005 benzene pollution of Songhua river and the soil contamination at Jiangsu school stadium last year, saying the damage had not been repaired in time.
Mines, rivers, forests and mountains are owned by the state, but previously there had been no law governing compensation claims if they are damaged by pollution, the spokesman said, though he said it was premature to bring in full legislation.
The scheme will cover most land, air, river and underground water pollution. But it does not apply to marine ecological and environmental damages, which will be governed by the marine environment protection law.
Damages for harm caused to people or private property will be processed under the existing laws on torts.
The directive did not grant any role for third party organisations to claim compensation from polluters, though it encouraged local governments to act on third parties’ complaints.
The ministry will also work to develop an environmental damage assessment system and regulate the assessment procedures.
To improve the scheme’s efficiency, the new plan delegates the authority to claim compensation from provincial governments to cities.
The directive also requires the government to sue the polluter for compensation if they fail to reach a settlement.
Under the current Environmental Protection Law, polluters are liable for compensation only from parties whose interests have been compromised by the pollution. Those parties have to prove economic loss has been directly caused by the pollution.
The latest environmental protection law, effective since 2015, established the principal of “polluters will be held responsible”. That year Beijing also started the pilot programmes to let local governments go after businesses responsible for pollution.
The scheme has already piloted in Jilin, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hunan, Chongqing, Guizhou and Yunnan. In one case, a company in southwestern Guizhou was fined 9 million yuan (US$1.4 million) to cover the government’s bill for ecological recovery.
China has launched a series of campaigns to fight pollution and environmental degradation, as authorities seek to rectify the practice of favouring economic growth regardless of the environmental cost.
Thousands of officials have been held accountable for environmental damage, following inspections by central authorities.
The country has also reduced the use of coal by industries and households, and tried to encourage the use of new forms of energy as well as cleaner fuels such as natural gas.