China environmental experts call for stronger pollution law

Environmental experts are calling for a newly amended version of the nation's Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act to have greater teeth to curb serious atmospheric pollution.

A proposed amendment to the law with tougher punishments and detailed measures on air pollution emergencies to prevent and control atmospheric pollution has gained a great deal of support from experts.

Chai Fahe, vice-president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, called for the revision of the law to be accelerated as this would help to reduce the thick haze in many urban areas.

"It is very possible the amended law will come out by the end of the year," Chai said at a sustainable energy forum in Beijing on Monday.

The law was last updated 13 years ago and it is time to come up with stricter control mechanisms and adopt stricter legislation, he said.

Chai said higher fines should be a key element of the amended law, as the current financial penalties fail to deter polluting companies.

Yang Zhaofei, deputy director general of the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences and a former official at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said this illegal behaviour would only thrive as it costs more to obey the laws than break them.

Earlier this month, the ministry revealed that several State-owned enterprises had failed to reach their 2012 emission reduction requirements.

Chai said there should be no ceiling on fines for causing pollution in the new version of the legislation.

The law was initially formulated in 1987 and revised in 1995 and 2000.

"The upper limit for fines on polluters is 500,000 yuan ($81,600), under the law, while many developed economies have no such limits," he said.

Chai also called for fines to be levied on a daily rather than case-by-case basis, and suggested that serious lawbreakers should even face punishment under criminal laws.

"Pollution from illegal discharges can cause cancer, which is no different from being a murderer. Therefore, these cases should be treated the same way," he said.

His call was echoed by Zhao Lijian from the Beijing office of the US-based Energy Foundation.

According to Chai, even though Beijing has one of the strictest standards in the nation for controlling boiler emissions, the level of pollution remains a problem.

He said the current legislation is too sympathetic to lawbreakers, as the companies and enterprises that cause atmospheric pollution face fines of less than 50 per cent of the direct economic losses caused, and these are no more than 500,000 yuan (S$100,000).

The stricter law is certain to encounter a great deal of opposition from companies and industries, which will see the measures as an unnecessary restriction.

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