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UPDATED: June 27, 2013
China Considers Harsher Legislation against Polluters

China's top legislature on Wednesday opened its bi-monthly session, with 162 lawmakers slated to discuss a draft amendment to the environmental protection law and amendments to improve the central government's efficiency.

Submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) for the second reading, the draft amendment contains harsher punishments for polluters and places greater emphasis on the public's right to know and participate compared with a version that was tabled for its first reading in August.

According to the bill, companies and other organizations that intentionally evade supervision and discharge pollutants will be prosecuted if they are found to be violating the law. Those whose activities are not serious enough for criminal prosecution will be punished according to the law on penalties for the administration of public security.

A new chapter was added to protect the public's right to obtain environmental information. According to the bill, governments at all levels should release environmental information and facilitate the participation of and supervision by citizens and institutions in protecting the environment.

Polluters will be required to publish information about the pollutants they discharge and how they are working to control the pollution.

The bill also introduces public interest litigation by authorizing the All-China Environment Federation and its provincial branches to initiate lawsuits against polluters on behalf of the public.

Environmental protection in rural areas is also highlighted in the bill. County governments will be required to install waste processing facilities in rural areas and efforts will be made to regulate the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

In addition to harsher punishments, the bill introduces measures to encourage law-abiding and eco-friendly enterprises. The government is urged to offer preferential policies in terms of taxation and loans to enterprises that have a good record in reducing pollution and protecting the environment.

The attempt to amend the environmental protection law has been seen as an important part of efforts to conserve resources and curb pollution.

The law has not been revised since it took effect in 1989. However, over the past two decades, the country has faced worsening pollution problems and the public has become less tolerant regarding environmental hazards.

Multiple Chinese cities were choked by dense smog earlier this year. Beijing's average PM2.5 density in January was 180 micrograms per cubic meter, about 30 percent higher than the level recorded during the same period in 2011, according to meteorological data.

PM2.5 refers to airborne particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. Such particles are more dangerous to breathe than larger particles, as they can penetrate the lungs more deeply.

At a study session held with members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in May, President Xi Jinping pledged that China will not sacrifice the environment for temporary economic growth.

Last week, the country's supreme court and procuratorate jointly issued a new judicial explanation that is intended to ease difficulties in investigating environmental pollution cases and convicting polluters.

On the first day of a session attended by NPC Standing Committee Chairman Zhang Dejiang, lawmakers were briefed on and discussed a draft law on special equipment safety and a bill regarding amendments for 12 laws.

The lawmakers will discuss a draft amendment to the trademark law and two reports made by the State Council concerning law enforcement in public security organs and China's urbanization.

They will also discuss two agreements regarding procedures for organizing and conducting joint anti-terrorism exercises with member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

(Xinhua News Agency June 26, 2013)

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