Chinese Court Moves to Halt Cross-Boundary Water Pollution

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By Michael Standaert

Jan. 26 — A Chinese court ruled this month for a nongovernmental public interest group in its effort to use a new provision in the legal system to stop cross-boundary water pollution.

A court in the Wanzhou district of the state-level municipality of Chongqing in south-central China ruled in favor of Chongqing Green Volunteer Association, which had filed a public interest lawsuit against a mining company in neighboring Hubei province for the pollution that contaminated a local reservoir in the Three Gorges Reservoir area.

The case appears to be the first successful ruling in favor of an environmental group in such a public interest lawsuit dealing with cross-boundary water pollution since China's amended Environmental Protection Law went into effect a year ago, giving such groups greater leeway in filing public interest cases.

The Wanzhou District Court ruled in favor of the green group in mid-January, ordering Hubei Enshi Jianshi Huangchangping Coal Mine Co. to halt activity polluting the reservoir in neighboring Chongqing, to obtain a new environmental impact assessment, and to conduct soil and ecological restoration around the site of the contamination within 180 days.

National Apology?

The company faces penalties of 991,000 yuan ($150,000) in restoration costs and the specter of making a national apology if it fails to comply. The company also is required to pay 320,000 yuan ($48,000) in environmental appraisal, court and other fees associated with the case.

The case stems from an Aug. 13, 2014, leak at an artificial tailing dump where the company had released excess wastewater. Abandoned mining equipment and slag leaked near the mining site on the Hubei province side, contaminating the groundwater and affecting drinking water resources in the Qianzhangyan Reservoir, three kilometers away on the Chongqing side of the border.

The leak affected 50,000 residents who use that water, the court said. The initial lawsuit was filed Nov. 13, 2014.

Early last year, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection said the incident led to direct economic losses of more than 3.3 million yuan ($500,000).

Environmental Cases

Chongqing municipality announced Jan. 21 that it has set up a think tank for guidance on how it should handle public interest lawsuits, with 106 experts signed on to assist in such cases.

Elsewhere, Zheng Xuelin, a judge from the Supreme People's Court's environmental resource branch, posted Jan. 17 on an official WeChat account—a Chinese social media application that government bodies are increasingly using—that the court's top officials are pushing the “stable use” of environmental public interest cases.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China, at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com