On March 7, 2017, the Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) released ten model/typical (典型) Environmental Public Interest Litigation (EPIL) cases. EPIL is a new type of suit that environmental social organizations (ESOs) and procuratorates can bring to the courts on behalf of the public against the conducts of pollution or ecological destruction that causes harm to social public interests.
China’s new Environmental Protection Law, which took effect on January 1, 2015, clarified the standing rule to allow ESOs to file EPIL cases as long as they can meet the following two requirements: (1) they have registered with the civil affairs departments at or above the municipal level within the district; and (2) they have specialized in environmental protection public interest activities for five or more consecutive years and have no record of any violations of the law. In June 2015, the National People’s Congress (NPC) approved a two-year pilot program to authorize procuratorates in 13 pilot provinces to file EPIL cases. Different from the ESOs-led EPIL cases in which an ESO can only sue civil parties, procuratorates can file EPIL cases against government agencies if they fail to perform their duties in accordance with the laws and regulations.
This is the first time the SPC released model/typical cases on EPIL. SPC reported that since January 1, 2015, Chinese courts at all levels accepted 189 EPIL cases, among which 73 were concluded, 11 were appealed. 137 out of 189 are environmental civil public interest cases, 51 are environmental administrative cases and 1 administrative with civil public interest case.
Judge Wei Wenchao, Deputy Chief Judge of the Environment and Resources Tribunal at the SPC, noted that EPIL cases are an important component of the environmental adjudication work in People’s courts and key building blocks for environmental good governance in China. EPIL can play an important role in strengthening rule of law in ecological civilization and promoting green development. The SPC has promulgated a few documents to promote EPIL, including Judicial Interpretations on EPIL; Judicial Interpretations on Legal Issues related to Adjudication of Environmental Tort Liability Cases; Implementation Measures on Adjudicating EPIL Cases Brought by Procuratorates in Pilot Areas; and Notice to Implement EPIL System.
By issuing the model cases, the SPC aims to provide further guidance to the lower courts in hearing EPIL cases and promote consistent application of law in these new types of cases.
Vermont Journal of Environmental Law at Vermont Law School has named China’s new EPIL law its Top Ten Watch List in 2017, citing that EPIL will be a powerful tool for Chinese citizens to fight the war against pollution and turn a new page of China’s environmental governance history, in which social organizations, courts and procuratorates will play increasing roles.
- Taizhou Environmental Protection Association of Jiangsu Province v. Taixing Jinhui Chemical Co., Ltd. et. al. (Water Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation v. Ningxia Ruitai Technology Co., Ltd. and a series of civil public interest cases related to Tengger Desert Pollution
- All China Environment Federation v. Jinghua Group Zhenhua Decoration Glass, Ltd. (Air Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- Chongqing Green Volunteers Association v. Hubei Enshi Autonomous Prefecture Jianzhan Sangchang Ping Mining Co., Ltd. (Reservoir Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- All China Environmental Federation v. Jiangsu Jiangyin Changjing Liang Pingsheng Pig Professional Cooperatives (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- Friends of Nature Environmental Research Institute in Beijing Chaoyang District v. Shandong Jinling Chemical Co., Ltd. (Air Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- Zhenjiang Ecological Environment Association v. Jiangsu Youli Optical Glasses Company (Solid Waste Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- Xuzhou City People’s Procuratorate of Jiangsu Province v. Xuzhou Hongshun Paper Co., Ltd. (Water Pollution Civil Public Interest Litigation)
- Liupanshui City People’s Procuratorate of Guizhou Province v. Zhenning Buyi and Miao Autonomous County Dingqi Town People’s Government (Environmental Administrative Public Interest Litigation)
- Baishan City People’s Procuratorate of Jilin Province v. Baoyuan City Jiangyuan District Health and Family Planning Bureau, Baishan City, Jiangyuan District, Chinese Medicine Hospital (Environmental Administrative with Civil Public Interest Litigation)
A more detailed introduction and analysis of these ten cases will follow in the coming blog posts, stay tuned.