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World's Top Polluter China Gets Tougher Environmental Laws

Apr 25, 2014 11:37 AM EDT
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China's long-running indifference towards the environment as it pursued economic growth is finally getting checked with an update to the nation's Environmental Protection Law, the first since the law was enacted 25 years ago.

Thursday the country's top legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), approved major amendments to the China's Environmental Protection Law. The move comes after China has grown into the world's largest manufacturing hub, most populous nation and greatest polluter on Earth.

China is the world's largest energy producer and consumer, leading world rankings in carbon dioxide emissions. The nation of 1.35 billion people is also the world's leading producer and consumer of of coal, accounting for about half of the world's coal use.

The new laws, which should go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, would require local governments to make public data about regional polluters and impose stiffer penalties higher fines for polluting.

According to Xinhua News Agency, China's state-run media outlet, the new law "gives harsher punishments to environmental wrongdoing, and has specific articles and provisions on tackling smog, making citizen's more aware of environmental protection and protecting whistleblowers."

"The new law says that economic and social development should be coordinated with environmental protection and encourages studies on the impact environmental quality causes on public health, urging prevention and control of pollution-related diseases," Xinhua reported.

The revised environmental law has makes three "critical improvements" to existing policies, according to the Natural Resources Defense Counsel's Barbara Finamore.

The first is a new penalty system replacing the current system of low fines that did little to incentivize companies to undergo costly modifications to lower pollution. The new cumulative penalty against polluters allows fines to increase to an unlimited amount as long as pollution violations continue. Second, the law creates a formal performance assessment system that accounts for an official's environmental protection record (whereas the old law only saw performance as a measure of economic growth). Third, non-governmental organizations will be allowed to take legal action against polluters on the behalf of the public interest.

The announcement comes on the heels of recent environmental studies in China, one that found nearly one-fifth of the country's farmland is contaminated with toxic metals such as cadmium, nickle and arsenic, and another reporting that 60 percent of groundwater throughout China has excessive amounts of pollution, according to The Associated Press.

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