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Local officials can sue polluters for damages

By Zheng Jinran in Beijing and Yang Jun in Guiyang | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-09 07:41

Guizhou province became on Tuesday the first of seven pilot areas to make it easier to force polluters to pay for damage they cause.

The plans allow provincial governments to sue companies that cause environmental destruction, or negotiate an out-of-court settlement, to obtain money needed to fix damage they caused. Previously, that power was reserved for the State Council, the highest executive organ of State power.

Xiong Dewei, director of the Guizhou Environmental Protection Bureau, said the plan is a major step forward in that it smooths the process and clearly stipulates the responsibilities of all parties in a dispute.

Damages awarded by a court will be put into a fund controlled by the local government and used to pay for a third party to fix problems. Remediation jobs will be put out to tender, the plan says.

Currently, there are no regulations on how to file a claim, so governments, not polluting companies, pay for remediation, officials said.

The other six regions releasing plans are Chongqing and the provinces of Jilin, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hunan and Yunnan.

The compensation reform was launched a year ago. Guizhou is the first to release the final version of a reform plan. In 2018, the reform will be expanded nationwide.

Other governments also have pushed forward with additional reforms, including Shaoxing in Zhejiang province. On March 15, the city's environmental inspectors found illegal discharges from Zhejiang Lexiang Aluminum Co had contaminated a near-by water channel, and the authority assessed 688,000 yuan ($101,400) in damages.

"The new reform can facilitate environment remediation, but there are still some obstacles to implementation," said Ma Yong, an environmental researcher at the Supreme People's Court Law Center. He said in Shaoxing, the remediation went slowly after the companies paid up. Additional work is needed in designing remediation plans and making them happen.

While provincial governments will be able to sue, it requires a vast a mount of time and energy, he said, adding that it would be better to pay for NGOs to sue polluters.

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(China Daily 11/09/2016 page3)

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