The Chinese government and legislature are increasing pressure on local government officials and companies to reduce pollution in China.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China’s legislature is targeting companies responsible for pollution, and has ordered local judiciaries and lawmakers to implement revised rules and enforce penalties against those who break them.

Air pollution, in particular, has been of particular concern. Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, announced that “[e]very provincial-level people’s congress should release or amend regulations on the air pollution prevention law by the end of this year in line with pollution conditions in their areas.” He further urged increased cooperation between public bodies, such as courts and environmental bodies within government. He noted that this cooperation should include both expanded investigation and enforcement efforts, but also issuing regulatory guidance so regulated companies are clear on the standards they are required to meet.

From May to June this year, 32 members of the NPC and officials from the legislature were split into four groups to conduct inspections in eight provinces. These groups will implement plans issued by the Communist Party’s Central Committee for pollution control and environmental protection by ensuring effective enforcement, solving problems, and bolstering legal protection of the environment. Including legislators in the investigations will allow them to gauge the extent of the problem and legislate accordingly.

The inspections have already exposed a number of problems. These problems include falsified pollution data, and a lack of regulations and guidance to support the protective laws. Six sites used by the government to collect data had been tampered with more than a 100 times from April 2017 to 2018 and, although almost 300 cities had been given the authority to legislate, only 5% of these cities have drafted regulations to accompany the law.

Additionally, the government is clamping down on officials who behave in a “perfunctory” or fraudulent manner in carrying out their duties to protect the environment. This will prompt authorities at local level to push for real change, and to improve the severe pollution problems that China faces.

This move is to ensure officials take pollution seriously. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment has released figures that show more than 600 companies have been fined CNY58 million (US$8.2 million) for failing to rectify environmental violations.

With increasing scrutiny from government and the legislature, officials who fall short of their duties and companies responsible for air pollution will have few places to hide. Latham will continue to monitor and report on China’s efforts to clamp down on air pollution and to clean up the environment.

This post was prepared with the assistance of Olivia Featherstone in the London office of Latham & Watkins.