The new Environmental Protection Law came into effect on January 1, 2015. It is expected that environmental protection enforcement will be intensified for the following reasons:
1. Prosecutor’s Intervention in Environmental Cases
In December 2014, the Prosecutor’s Office of Jinsha County, Guizhou Province (the plaintiff) lodged an administrative lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Bureau of Jinsha County, Guizhou Province (the defendant) for administrative omission, which is the first public interest administrative suit in China filed by a prosecutor’s office. Understandably the Environmental Protection Bureau immediately exercised its power of administrative penalty right after initiation of the suit. The case was then withdrawn by the Prosecutor’s Office on the ground that the purpose of public interests has been reached. Considering the judicial power of prosecutors in cracking down criminal offenses, the intervention of the Prosecutor’s Office in environmental protection enforcement as a plaintiff has aroused great attention from the business community and local governments.
2. The Passion from NGOs
On January 1, 2015, the same day as the formal effective of the new Environmental Protection Law, non-governmental environmental organizations Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Earth filed environmental public interest litigation as co-plaintiffs against four defendants. The Intermediate People⊙s Court of Nanping City, Fujian Province procedurally accepted the case in accordance with Article 58 of the new Environmental Protection Law. The case became the first case of environmental public interest litigation after the implementation of the law. According to the new Environmental Protection Law, eligible NGOs are granted with the right to sue by reason of public interests, and polluters will be subject to more monitoring civilians. The scheme of public interest litigation will help to overcome the inaction by the environmental law enforcement authorities. In the public interest litigation of environmental protection in Nanping City, Fujian, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Research and Services Center of the Environmental Resources Law under China University of Politics and Law are the supporting units for the lawsuit. Friends of Nature even officially launched a supporting fund for environmental public interest litigation on January 4, 2015.
3. Internal Pressure within Environmental Authorities
Article 67 (2) of the new Environmental Protection Law provides, “where administrative penalties shall be imposed according to law, and relevant competent departments of environmental protection do not perform such duties, the environmental protection departments of a higher level in the government may make a decision of administrative penalties directly”. This kind of arrangement is very rare in the administrative laws and regulations, which put the local authorities of environmental protection under the pressure of the ministry of environmental protection. This will help to overcome long-standing regional protectionism in the local competent departments of environmental protection and provide enforcement basis for centralized environmental law enforcement and the effectiveness. Therefore, more administrative enforcement and penalty cases will be expected in 2015.
The new Environmental Protection Law also set up such new rules as consecutive daily fines and joint and several liabilities of the intermediary agencies. Viewing the trend of China⊙s environmental protection enforcement, along with the increase of risks in corporate environmental liability both administratively and criminally, companies must attach great importance to environmental compliance and pre-arranged planning for government investigation.