China’s Legislature Moves To Crack Down On Polluters

CREDIT: AP Photo / Andy Wong

A man wearing mask walks past trees shrouded with pollution haze in Beijing, China.

China just updated a 1989 anti-pollution law to crack down on companies and individuals who befoul the country’s environment, the New York Times reported.

On Thursday, the China’s National People’s Congress approved revisions to the law, expanding its number of articles from 47 to 70. They’re the first changes made to the legislation since its enactment in 1989, and they’ll take effect on the first of the year, 2015. The legislative body usually agrees to policies already made by Communist Party Leaders, and China’s prime minister said China was ready to “declare war” on pollution.

According to the New York Times, the alterations include steeper fines for companies, as well as the ability for fines to accumulate daily rather than being assessed on a one-time basis; the possibility of 15-day detainment for company executives deemed responsible for pollution; and demotions and even firings for officials who cover up for polluting companies.

It’s not the only recent move China has made to ratchet down on its growing pollution problem. Earlier this year, China tightened the cuts it requires in air pollution for a large number of its cities — in some cases calling for reductions of as much as 25 percent. Much of the motivation for that move may have come from a report the government released in March, acknowledging that only three of 74 Chinese cities had fully complied with the previously required reductions. The government also started a “name and shame” campaign in 2013 to single out the cities that fell furthest behind.

China’s energy administration is also looking to shut down almost 1,800 small-scale coal mines over the course of 2014 — an effort to close older, less productive, and low-quality coal production, while moving the bulk of the industry to the country’s more remote northwestern regions. China burns truly massive amounts of coal — almost half of global consumption, and accounting for 70 to 80 percent of the country’s electricity generation — which has resulted in rolling and record-breaking levels of air pollution. The first months of 2014 brought multi-day stretches of smog and particulate matter pollution to China’s major cities that sometimes hit 10 and even 20 times the upper limit of safety pegged by the World Health Organization.

The medical journal The Lancet has estimated that China’s air pollution is now responsible for 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths per year.

This week, China’s Ministry of Land and Resources also released a report that almost 60 percent of the areas it monitors for underground water quality rated “relatively poor” or “very poor” in 2013. The data covers 4,778 monitored sights in 203 cities. According to the New York Times, tap water was shut off earlier this month to one district of the Chinese city of Lanzhou, after benzene was found in the water supply. The city is home to 3.6 million people. And in late 2012, a chemical spill from a fertilizer factory forced officials to shut down water supplies for the city of Handan, which has over one million people.