BEIJING, April 21 (Xinhua) -- A draft amendment to China's Environmental Protection Law was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) for its fourth reading on Monday, proposing heavier punishments for law violations.
When explaining the draft to lawmakers, Zhang Mingqi, vice-chairman of the NPC Law Committee, said the draft will give heavier punishments to tackle the problem of pollution, following lawmakers' suggestions during the third reading that penalties were too lenient.
The new draft stipulates that enterprises will be named and shamed for breaking environmental protection laws.
According to the new draft, responsible persons would face up to 15 days of detention if their enterprises dodge environmental impact assessments and refuse to suspend production after being issued a ban; fail to obtain a pollutant discharge permit but discharge pollutants, and refuse to suspend the discharge after administrative bodies issue a ban; or if they shirk supervision through means including forging monitoring data or improperly operating pollution prevention equipment. The length of detention would depend on the impact of their violations.
Responsible persons would face the same punishments if their enterprises produce or use forbidden pesticides and refuse to make corrections.
The draft also proposes that organizations in charge of environmental impact assessments and supervision would bear joint liabilities if they practice fraud.
China's Environmental Protection Law has not been revised since it took effect in 1989.
This is the fourth time the draft amendment has been submitted for deliberation since its first reading in August 2012. It is rare in China for a law or amendment to go through three readings and not be passed, highlighting the importance of the draft in China's pursuit of sustainable development and the wide public scrutiny of the law.
According to the draft, if enterprises illegally discharge pollutants, causing or possibly causing severe pollution, environmental administrative bodies of governments at county level or above would have the right to seal up and confiscate from the enterprise any equipment discharging pollutants.
Zhang said the draft also aims to hone citizen's environmental awareness.
It says citizens should adopt a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle and perform environmental protection duties, and nominates June 5 as Environment Day.
If the draft is passed, the public will be encouraged to observe environmental protection laws and make their own efforts in this regard, including sorting their garbage for recycling.
The draft also has specific articles and provisions on tackling air pollution, after many parts of the country have been hit by smog.
It says that the country should promote environmentally friendly production and the recycling of resources.
Governments at county level or above should establish an early warning mechanism for environmental pollution and map out due counter-plans, under the proposals. When the environment is polluted, early warning information should be released to the public in a timely manner and emergency measures should be initiated.
Zhang said the new draft highlights protection for whistleblowers on environmental issues, as lawmakers pointed out during the draft's third reading that in practice, many informants suffer retaliation.
A clause has been added saying that departments which receive tip-offs should keep whistleblower's information confidential and protect their legitimate rights.
Another significant change is an expansion of the range of subjects of public interest litigation on environmental issues.
According to the draft amendment for the fourth reading, the subjects could be social organizations which have registered with the civil affairs departments of governments at municipal level or above and have been engaged in public litigation on environmental issues for more than five years with a sound reputation.
Courts should receive public litigation on environmental issues according to law, while social organizations should not seek profits through such litigation, according to the new draft.
By promoting public interest litigation, it is hoped that the public's appeal for a better environment can be addressed through rule of law, instead of resorting to protests.
China has faced increasing protests, or "mass incidents," over environmental issues in recent years. Many cities have seen residents take to the streets against paraxylene projects, which they believe to be a threat to the environment and public health. In many cases, the projects in question were later suspended.
Lawmakers will deliberate on the draft amendment to the Environmental Protection Law during the bimonthly session, to be held from Monday to Thursday.