Key Points:

  • New regulation provides more detailed procedures for reviewing environmental evaluations and follow-up monitoring
  • Environmental impact will be controlled at the district level
  • Administrative liabilities will apply in case of noncompliance

For more than two decades, the practice of conducting environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in China was part of the country’s Environmental Protection Law1. In October 2002 that law was upgraded to a new national Environmental Impact Assessment Law2 (EIA Law), which is considered the most progressive legislation addressing environmental issues in China in recent years. The EIA Law explicitly states that EIA is required for both new private construction projects and government development plans. However, the provisions of the EIA Law are too general to be enforceable, especially on new project planning evaluations. The law is unclear on how local governments should approve new projects. Also, given the importance of establishing new projects, EIA for construction projects has been given more attention, which is partly why problems and issues have been found in connection with government plan EIA (PEIA). To further strengthen assessment of environmental impact, in particular to supervise governmental agencies in terms of PEIA, a new Regulation on Plan Environmental Impact Assessment (Regulation) was promulgated on August 17, 2009 and goes into effect on October 1, 2009.

The Regulation aims to prevent pollution and ecological destruction by regulating, guiding and supervising local government’s environmental evaluation of project plans. It specifies which entities are obligated to conduct, review and approve the PEIAs and provides detailed procedural provisions for reviewing evaluations and follow-up monitoring. Although consultation with the public was previously required in the EIA Law, the Regulation reiterated that the public’s opinion should be solicited and written into the evaluation report for special projects that may affect the community.

Following global standards, the Regulation introduces follow-up evaluations. The project planning organization is obligated to continue to monitor and evaluate environmental impacts after the project’s completion. If there is substantial negative environmental impact, this organization will take corrective measures and report to the project approval authority upon their completion. The competent environmental administration is entitled to raise suggestions for revising or improving the project.

Control of key pollutants, according to the Regulation, will be divided by “districts.” If discharge of key pollutants within a district where a specific plan is applicable exceeds the relevant total discharge standard, EIAs for new construction projects that will create additional key pollutants within the district will not be approved. This new rule not only establishes a district control principle but also creates a close connection between PEIA and EIA for construction projects.

Liabilities of local government officials are described in detail in the Regulation, while the EIA Law focuses mainly on construction projects’ noncompliance. Officials responsible for arrangement, drafting or approval of relevant plans may face penalties for projects’ noncompliance.

China no longer focuses merely on construction projects’ environmental evaluation; it now imposes more supervision of prior evaluations on the general environment for governments planning projects. This represents great progress for environmental protection in China. Although the Regulation seems to relate more to governmental affairs, there are obvious connections to construction projects and investment. We will continue to observe and report on implementation of the Regulation.