An extract from The Environment and Climate Change Law Review, 4th Edition
Environmental protectioni Air quality
The State Council sets the ultimate goals for air pollutant emission control periodically, and local governments are permitted to determine the emission control goal for their territory, for each entity, especially key pollutant discharging entities, and issue relevant permits. The Law on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution is the primary source of law that governs air pollution-related environmental problems. It stipulates that air quality standards and emission targets shall be set by MEE or local governments,42 violations to the law will be subject to fines.43 The Integrated Emission Standards for Air Pollutants (GB16297 – 1996) set forth emission standards for 33 kinds of different air pollutants, together with specific air pollutant emission standards for boilers, industrial furnace, thermal-power stations, automobiles, motorcycles, etc. Local authorities are encouraged to establish more stringent emission standards for air pollutants.
To further implement the Law on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution, various standards and plans were issued in 2018. The MEE promulgated the Technical Specifications for Operation and Quality Control of Ambient Air Quality Automated Monitoring System for Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5),44 which added operation and quality control requirements for PM2.5 continuous automatic monitoring system. In the automobile industry, the Limits and Measurement Methods for Emissions from Light-Duty Vehicles45 (China V Emission Standard) has been in force since 1 January 2018 in accordance with the Air Pollution Control Plan.46 The newly enforced standard is equivalent to EU Stage 5 emission standards, and automobiles that follow pre-China IV standards would not be allowed on the road anymore. The new standard is expected to cut the NOx emission by 25 to 43 per cent. Further, the China VI Emission Standard is currently under preparation and is expected to enter into force from 1 July 2020. Meanwhile, the Limits and Measurement Methods for Emissions from Diesel Vehicles was approved on 27 September 2018,47 which added on-board diagnostics checks, emission limits for NOx and adjusted the smoke emission limits, and is expected to be effective from 1 May 2019.ii Water quality
The Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution comprises chapters regarding regulating water pollution with regard to industrial, urban, agricultural and rural, and vessel activities, and the Implementing Rules of the Law of the PRC on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution details corresponding requirements. As required by the Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, entities are not allowed to discharge industrial and medical effluents without obtaining a permit from the government beforehand, and entities that perform centralised disposal of urban effluents should obtain permits in advance as well.48 The amendment to the Law in 2018 places special focus on agricultural water waste and drinkable water safety, while also increasing the cost of violation to a maximum of 1 million yuan.49
Alongside the amendment to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution in 2018, the MEE issued the Discharge Standard for Water Pollutants from Ships on 16 January 2018 and became effective on 1 July 2018.50 The new standard provides for discharge control requirements for oily sewage, domestic sewage, sewage containing toxic liquid substances and ship garbage disposal according to the types of water and ship.iii Chemicals
Current effective laws and regulations for hazardous chemicals mainly include the Work Safety Law, the Regulations of the Work Safety Licence, the Fire Protection Law, the Emergency Response Law and the Regulations of the PRC on Administrative Chemicals Subject to Supervision and Control (amended in 2011).
Entities engaged in hazardous chemicals-related business shall obtain certain permits, conduct safety assessment, conduct environmental impact assessments and provide a responsive emergency plan at the initial stage of the project.iv Solid and hazardous waste
The Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution Caused by Solid Waste concretely directs the work for the prevention and control of industrial solid waste and domestic garbage. Permits must be acquired for collection, storage, disposal and utilisation of hazardous waste, and hazardous waste manifest must be completed conforming to the regulations.51 Further, there are regulations for transportation and disposal of abandoned electronic devices, medical waste, tailings and urban construction waste. However, China does not have requirements for financial assurance yet.
To further implement the Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution Caused by Solid Waste, the MEE issued a new method52 in 2018 to standardise the evaluation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in solid wastes and their leachate to better regulate the hazardous impact of this type of persistent organic pollutant on human health.v Contaminated land
On 31 August 2018, the Law on the Prevention and Control of Soil Pollution was adopted by the fifth meeting of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress and was scheduled to become effective on 1 January 2019.53 Compared to atmospheric pollution and water pollution, soil pollution is more invisible and accumulative, yet it is the most difficult to detect instantly. For the purpose of better regulation and deterrence, the new law was drafted with four major spotlights:
- any organisation or individual has the obligation to protect the soil and prevent soil pollution, and effective measures should be taken to prevent and reduce soil pollution, otherwise legal responsibilities will incur according to the law;54
- the State Council has the unified leadership to conduct nationwide census of soil pollution and the census shall be organised at least once every 10 years;55
- a central special fund and provincial fund for soil pollution prevention and control willl be established, dedicated to the prevention and control of soil pollution on agricultural land, and also applied to soil pollution risk management and remediation when the responsible person cannot be identified;56 and
- any violation of the law will be subject to fine up to 2 million yuan,57 and for criminal acts, the person involved will be prohibited from entering the practice indefinitely.58
Regarding soil polluting actions that harm national and public interests, relevant agencies and associations can bring tort actions against the environmental tortfeasors under the EPL, Civil Procedural Law and Administrative Procedural Law.