China Environmental Law

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A New Era of Environmental Crimes in China?

August 20th, 2009 · 1 Comment

You may have read about the water contamination case in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province.  If not, Greenlaw and New Energy and Environment Digest (NEED) have good summaries.  NEED states that

An estimated one million of the city’s 1.5 million residents were left without water due to what government identified as the presence of two variants of carbolic acid - carcinogen hydroxybenzene and phenol - in the city’s water supply.

The local government identified Biaoxin Chemical Company as the party responsible for the tainted water, which illegally discharged the toxic chemicals from its facility, said state media Xinhua news agency. Xinhua also reported that the plant has been shut down and its top executives arrested

The criminal trial of Biaoxin’s chairman, Hu Wenbiao, recently concluded with a conviction and sentence of 11 years in prison. Xinhua reports that this “was the first time that that those who violated emission rules and caused environmental pollution were jailed on charges of spreading poison.”  If one reads this sentence as using the word “poison” simply to refer to environmental pollutants (as I first did), then the sentence is inaccurate because a number of individuals have been sentenced to prison for violating China’s “emissions rules” (see, e.g., here).

In fact, the article is using “poison” as a legal term because, as it turns out, Mr. Hu was tried under the provisions of Article 115 of China’s Criminal Code which provides that

Whoever sets fire, breaches dikes, causes explosions, and spreads poison; employs other dangerous means that lead to serious injuries or death; or causes public or private property major losses is to be sentenced to not less than 10 years of fixed-term imprisonment, life imprisonment, or death.

Whoever commits the crimes in the preceding paragraph negligently is to be sentenced to not less than three years to not more than seven years of fixed-term imprisonment; or not more than three years of fixed-term imprisonment, or criminal detention, when circumstances are relatively minor.

Ten years of his sentence is attributable to violation of this provision (thus, his acts were found to be more than simply “negligent”).  The use of Article 115 is significant because it permits the imposition of significantly higher penalties (including the death sentence) than the standard environmental crimes provision (Article 338) contained in China’s Criminal Code which sets a maximum sentence of seven years.

It’s good to see Chinese prosecutors getting creative in pursuing cases against polluting entities when the “knowing” quality of the violation is so clear and the consequences so devastating.  Don’t be surprised to see a death sentence handed down in a suitably high profile environmental case in the future.

Tags: enforcement · environmental crimes · environmental enforcement · environmental policy · penalties · water pollution

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Green // Aug 30, 2009 at 8:20 am

    This is a very good step taken by the China government to punish those criminals who pollute the environment and the all the other countries should adopt this step for pure and clean environment.

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