Current Environmental Law Developments in China

August 28, 2013


New Air Pollution Control Plans

Plans are being developed at both the national and regional levels in China for controlling air pollution including the municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin, the province of Hebei, the Yangtze River Delta area around Shanghai, and the Pearl River Delta region in Guangdong province. Details of the national plan have yet to be released, but regional governments have announced details as follows:

Tianjin, China’s fourth-largest city, has included in its goals creation of more “green corridors,” expanded use of desulfurization and denitrification technology to reduce industrial emissions, full use of China V gasoline and diesel fuel (a measure of fuel quality) before 2015, and restrictions on the use of coal-fired power. By 2016, Tianjin is aiming to reduce levels of fine particulate matter (PM-2.5) an average of 20 percent annually. Tianjin is also considering restrictions on new car purchases and implementation of odd-even license plate system to reduce the number of the cars on the roads.

In Shijiazhuang, the capital city of Hebei province, the government announced it would ban purchases of a third car per family starting in 2013.[1] The city failed to meet acceptable air quality levels 90 percent of the time in the first half of 2013, according to government announcements.

Guangdong province issued a plan in 2012 which bans the use of certain types of coal as fuel for industrial-use boilers and burners in certain urban areas before 2015 and sets stricter conditions for approvals of new coal-fired power plants.

Guangdong province is also developing an air pollution emergency plan for the Pearl River Delta, which will include warning grades of orange and red, designating progressively worse air quality readings and measures to protect the public.

Jiangsu province also implemented an air pollution control plan in July 2013. The plan is intended to achieve significant reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds by 2015. The Jiangsu plan would cap coal consumption, set stricter emissions limits for industries such as power generation and steel production, and more tightly regulate vehicle exhaust content.

Government Reports Persistent Air Quality, Water Pollution Issues

The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection reports that air quality remains poor and heavy metal contamination of water resources continues to be widespread. Air quality standards were met only 54.8 percent of the time in the first half of 2013 in the 74 cities required to monitor air quality. The main pollutants are reported to be fine particulate matter (PM-2.5) and ozone.

The Ministry report said that overall, surface water was “slightly polluted.” Among river basins for which data were reported, water quality was worst in the Hai River, which flows through Beijing and Tianjin; poor in the Yellow River; and slightly polluted in the Songhua, Huan, and Liao rivers. Water quality worsened in the Hai River compared to the first half of 2012, according to the Ministry. Heavy metal pollution—particularly mercury, arsenic and manganese—continues to be a problem in surface water.

Environmental Impacts Reviews for Aquatic Species

China is tightening requirements for environmental impact assessments (“EIAs”) for projects that could affect spawning grounds, feeding grounds, wintering grounds, and migration routes in an effort to protect various aquatic species. The Ministry of Environmental Protection, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, said it will require local environmental protection bureaus and oceanic bureaus to strengthen EIA requirements to protect the diversity of aquatic species. Projects in areas of critical habitat, construction of ports, docks, bridges, and waterway dredging, among others, will need to include evaluations of long-term impacts on the aquatic species. In particular, potential avoidance, mitigation, or restoration measures may need to be taken to offset impacts on the critical habitat.

Online Service Offered to Project Developers

Starting September 1, 2013, the Ministry of Environmental Protection will allow companies to submit requests to conduct the environmental impact assessment process for potential construction projects through a newly-established online system. Those using the online system will be notified within five business days whether their requests have been granted. Project proponents will then be required to arrange for environmental impact assessments by independent, licensed evaluators. Once completed, the assessments are submitted to the relevant environmental protection bureau for approval.

[1] Currently, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guiyang also have various restrictions on car purchases. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said purchase restrictions are being contemplated in Chongqing municipality and in the cities of Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Qingdao, and Wuhan. Beijing is considering releasing an ordinance on carpooling later this year.

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