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Polluters Face Stiff Penalties

Limits will be lifted on fines for firms that dump waste into water, according to a legislative amendment unveiled yesterday.

The current cap on fines for water polluters is 1 million yuan (US$131,000) besides administrative and legal penalties - which is not considered deterrent enough.

The draft amendment to the water pollution prevention and control law proposed fines that range from 20 percent to 30 percent of direct economic loss caused by polluters.

The draft was submitted yesterday for review to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the top legislature.

"The amendment will end the anomaly - high cost for those who comply with the law and light penalties for violators," said Zhou Shengxian, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), while explaining the draft to lawmakers.

People involved in major water pollution accidents also face prosecution, according to the draft law.

The proposed amendment to the law, which came into effect in 1996, has a number of provisions to tackle increasingly serious water pollution, according to Zhou:

Governments are responsible for controlling the total amount of major water pollution discharges; and administrations above the county level have to closely watch pollution emissions from industrial, farming and other sectors.

To control the total amount of pollutant emissions, authorities will devise a license system for emitters of wastewater containing toxic or radioactive materials. Without the license, enterprises will be banned from discharging pollutants into water.

There is added emphasis on the protection of drinking water sources.

The emergency response capability for dealing with water pollution accidents will be strengthened.

The minister said an amendment is urgently needed as water pollution is getting increasingly worse.

According to SEPA data, of the 1,406 environmental accidents reported in 2005, water pollution accidents accounted for nearly half.

Also, groundwater in more than half of Chinese cities is polluted, and drinking water supply for over 300 million people in rural areas is threatened, according to SEPA figures. The ecological systems of major rives, such as Huaihe, Liaohe and Haihe, have been severely damaged.

Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University, said it is not easy to calculate losses from an environmental accident, which may hinder the implementation of the amended law.

In addition, not all environmental pollution results in an accident, which makes meting out a fine difficult.

He called for a simple and effective measure, such as working out a cumulative daily penalty system without caps.

(China Daily August 27, 2007)

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