China Institutes Broad Reform of Environmental Protection Law

May 5, 2014


After two years of heated debate, China adopted significant amendments to its Environmental Protection Law (the “EPL”) on April 24, 2014. The new EPL, which will come into effect on January 1, 2015, expanded the law to 70 articles from 47 in its previous version, which was adopted 25 years ago.

In response to mounting public concern over China’s deteriorating environment in the face of rapid industrialization, the new EPL emphasizes the performance of environmental impact reviews in advance of projects that are subject to government permitting authority. These reviews should address all aspects of the project’s impact, taking into consideration new economic and technological policies.

Among other changes, the new EPL introduces harsher penalties against polluters. A polluter who has been assessed fines but fails to undertake remedial actions would be subject to daily penalties in the same amount as the initial fine, without cap, until action is complete. The law will now also include new administrative sanctions, including the right to detain any responsible officer (or other person responsible for pollution) for up to 15 days for failure to comply with any administrative order issued by the environmental protection and supervision agency, even if such non-compliance does not in itself constitute a criminal act.

The new EPL vests environmental protection and supervision agencies with greater power, including the authority to order a polluter to suspend its production while implementing remedial actions and the right to confiscate any equipment that is found to cause pollution. An agency may also formally make recommendations to the local government to shut down a polluter that exceeds applicable pollutant emission standards, depending on the seriousness of the circumstances.

Finally, the new EPL provides for enhanced accountability for senior officials; it requires disciplinary action against government officials whose subordinates fail to act in accordance with the new EPL, including their forced resignation in appropriate circumstances.

We will provide further updates as the new EPL is put into effect at the end of the year.

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