Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chinese Water Pollution Law Amended for Good

China faces many problems in its modernization. Income gap, aging population, air pollution, inadequate housing, social security/retirement, and the lack of affordable healthcare, to name just a few. But, none is more urgent and worrying than water pollution. Many readers are already familiar with media coverage of extensive pollution in major Chinese waterways and fresh water sources, and it is unnecessary to list them one by one. But, I do want to make an exception, the pollution of the Hanjiang River, as reported in the last few days, because it has touched a personal nerve.

I grew up by the Hanjiang River, along its upper stretches, close to its origin, so I have some emotional attachment to this nurturing, and at times mighty river. About a fifteen- minutes walk away from my home, as a kid, I used to swim and fish in it, search for rocks along its southern bank, graze our family water buffalo by it, and even drink from it. It was not so special while I was there, passing by it thousands of times. But it is when I have left my home that I realized how important a river like that is in shaping who I am today. So, upon hearing that pollution turned the water in the lower stretches of the river, I lament for its suffering. Even more so, I am deeply concerned for the people who live by the river because they rely on it for its life sustaining water, one of the most precious yet underappreciated natural resources on earth.

With that said, I am glad to hear that the Water Pollution Prevention and Control has been amended to abate the almost out-of-control pollution situation in China.

According to this report:

China's top legislature on Thursday passed an amended water pollution law that toughens punishment of company officials through hefty fines.

The Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law, to take effect on June 1, was passed at the 32nd session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which concluded in Beijing on Thursday.

"Enterprise heads directly responsible for causing severe water pollution incidents and others with direct responsibility would be fined up to half of their income in the previous year," said the law.

Previously, corporate executives faced only administrative penalties.

Water pollution is among the top environmental concerns of the Chinese government and the public.

A 2006 survey found that surface water generally was classified as containing intermediate levels of pollution, but one third of the 744 samples tested were graded at the worst pollution rating.

Yes, I have my doubts about how effective these amendments will be in the come days and years in alleviating the vast pollution problem facing the Chinese. I cannot help but question: how will monetary fines against executives of polluting companies effectively reduce and curb pollution (does deterrence really work?)? How strictly will this law be enforced? What viable measures and policies are in place to cure the impact of water pollution? Besides administrative penalties, civil fines, can individuals be given a private right of action for injuries due to pollution? If the current anti pollution legal structures are not effective, what solutions, legislative, administrative, or non-government related, could be adopted to abruptly abate pollution and jump start cleaning up process? Answers to some of the questions probably lie in a quick research, which I will do soon; but some questions are beyond my limited scope of knowledge.

The first required book in law school, which is not a casebook, was A Civil Action. It’s an enthralling book about a lawyer taking on two large corporations (W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods) that allegedly polluted underground water. It is such a powerful book. (I digressed.)

Notwithstanding the questions I have about the amended Water Law, I welcome any step forward by the Chinese government (legislature) to address pollution.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Thomas Chow said...

I also see problems with enforcement. It is really tough to do something like this. The EPA has a hard time doing enforcement, and it requires a LOT of work (and red tape).

I actually used to do some litigation akin to the Civil Action stuff, on the defense side. (we did groundwater cases for a *very* large chemical company, as well as other types) This sort of litigation drags out and takes a lot of expert studies and reports. It's pretty ridiculous. I don't think the Chinese legal system is quite right for such a type of lawsuit right now.