China allows first pollution suit under new law

China's Qingdao Maritime Court on July 27 ruled that a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil for a 2011 oil spill can proceed. The suit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and it the first case to proceed since the country revised a law (LoC backgrounder) allowing NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest. The Chinese government has already fined the companies approximately $258 million for the spill. Other cases are also pending under the law, which became effective on Jan. 1.

China had long come under international criticism for lax environmental laws and enforcement, but has taken more protective steps in recent years. Earlier this month, China set a 60% per capita carbon dioxide emissions reduction goal for 2030. That follows up a November agreement with the US to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

From Jurist, July 28. Used with permission.

  1. Tianjin disaster reveals China’s industrial free-for-all

    The disaster in the port city of Tianjin reveals how far China has to go implement even the most rudimentary environmental enforcement. The death toll from the massive Aug. 12 explosions stands at 112 as scores of firefighters remain unaccounted for. Thousands have been evacuated as the authorities warn local people to take protective measures. More than 720 people remain hospitalized. And it now emerges that the warehouse where the blasts originated was storing 700 metric tons of sodium cyanide, 70 times the permitted amount. (HKFP, Aug. 16) The company, not surprisingly, was apparently well-connected. Ruihai International Logistics had been repeatedly accused of violating health and safety regulations, but continued to operate with impunity. A major shareholder was apparently the son of Tianjin's police chief.  (HKFP, Aug. 17)

    Worse yet, BBC World Service just reported that firefighters were sent in without being told what substances were burning—so they made the disaster worse by using water on chemical fires, spreading the blaze. This is apparently beginning to spark protests in Tianjin—along with the issue of home-owners being stuck with mortages for destroyed homes. (Socialsm, eh?) 

    The Chernobyl disaster was a turning point that marked the start of the collapse of the Soviet system. China may be looking at its Chernobyl now…

  2. Tianjin disaster reveals cracks in Chinese system

    An analysis on Taiwan's New Bloom website of the Tianjin disaster and its "implications for China’s developmentalist state" notes the growing frequency of such industrial accidents, which have been a focus of recent protests in China:

    The Tianjin explosions were the fifth chemical explosion in 4 months. On April 6th, PX chemical explosion occurred in Fujian, on April 21st, an chemical explosion occurred at Jiangsu Nanjing on April 25th, an explosion occurred at Jiangxi Taipu on May 5th, an explosion occurred and Shandong Chemical on July 26th, and an explosion occurred at the Tianjin Tangku Developmental area on August 12th. [By our count this is more than five—WW4R] …Actually, if the Tianjin explosions have been particularly disastrous, such accidents have taken place in the past but without much in the way of media attention.

    It goes on to detail how the government has been waging a struggle to control the spin on social media in China, and the growing perception that "China has sacrificed industrial safety and environmental health in pursuit of economic growth at all costs." 
  3. Dead fish, exploited rabbits in Tianjin

    Photos are making the rounds on social media of huge heaps of dead fish washing up alpng a river in Tianjin near site of the blasts. Local residents said they've never before witnessed so many dead fish in the area. Authorities are (improbably) claiming it is unrelated to the industrial disaster—despite the fact that cynaide levels in the river have been elevated since the explosions. Levels of cyanide and other dangerous chemicals at the site itself are hundreds of times higher than what is safe at one spot. Authorities have placed caged rabbits, chickens and pigeons at the site in an attempt to allay public fears. (Shanghaist, WaPoCNN)

  4. China: court finds in favor of NGOs under new environmental law

    The Nanping Municipal Intermediate People's Court of Fujian found in favor of two environmental groups on Oct. 29 under a new environmental law. The court ordered defendants to restore destroyed vegetation and pay compensation for the damage that resulted from of an illegal mining expansion. This was the first environmental protection case decided since the Environmental Protection Law (PDF, backgrounder) took effect on Jan. 1. The law allows NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest, and the victory by Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home suggests that other environmental groups will have more power to combat pollution under the new law. (Jurist)

  5. China sentences 14 to prison over pipeline blasts

    A Chinese court sentenced 14 former oil-industry and local government officials to jail over deadly oil-pipeline explosions two years ago in the eastern city of Qingdao, state media said. The sentences are the stiffest punishments handed out for the November 2013 blasts, which ripped through a housing district and killed 63 people. (WSJ, Nov. 30)

  6. More environmentalist protests in China

    Reports on RFA and AAP today indicate that authorities in Haiyan county, Zhejiang, have suspended plans to build a waste incinerator after a wave of angry citizen protests. The issue saw street clashes with police and tear-gas fired at demonstrators this week in Xitangqiao township. (Two years ago, there was a local uprising in the Zhejiang city of Yuhang over a similar incinerator project.)

    The decision to drop the new project may have been informed by this week's massive explosion at a chemical warehouse in Jingjiang, Jiangsu. (Reuters) This time there were no casualties—or any protests that were reported. But authorities doubtlessly recalled the outcry after last year's Tianjin disaster…

  7. Former China energy official given suspended death sentence

    A former Chinese senior energy official who had hoarded 200 million yuan ($29.99 million) has been given a suspended death sentence after being convicted of corruption. Wei Pengyuan, who had been the deputy director of the coal department at the National Energy Administration, was accused of abusing his position to approve coal projects and take millions in bribes. His suspended death sentence means that in reality he will remain in prison for life with no chance of parole or early release. (Jurist)

  8. China industrial park explosion kills 19

    An explosion at an industrial park in China's Sichuan province has left 19 people dead and 12 others injured, officials say. Authorities in Jiang'an county said the blast happened at a chemical plant run by Yibin Hengda Technology. (BBC News)