First ever lawsuit against a environmental protection department in China

First ever lawsuit against a environmental protection department in China

china_sewage.jpg

Labourers work to drain sewage water from a leaked sewage tank at a copper mine.
Photo: Reuters

Prosecutors in eastern China have filed a lawsuit against a county-level environmental protection department. The accusation is that the department is "failing to fulfil its regulatory duties" in its supervision of a local sewage firm, China’s top prosecutor said on Monday.

China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate said the lawsuit - filed by prosecutors in eastern Shandong province last week - marked the first time prosecutors had sued a government department in a public interest case.

"This is the country’s first administrative public interest litigation case after the National People’s Congress authorised prosecutors to file public interest lawsuits in a pilot programme," reads a statement from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on its website.

The suit comes after China’s leadership has vowed to crack down on severe levels of air, water and soil pollution. For example, the heavy smog that often blankets major cities, a side effect of decades of economic growth.

The work of environmental departments has come under extra scrutiny because of public discontent over the environment. Experts say that local governments have pressured courts not to go hard on polluting industries that drive their economies.

Prosecutors in Shandong had investigated a local sewage firm over allegations that it lacked environmental protection facilities, according to China’s top prosecutor. The department imposed only nominal administrative punishments and committed "illegal acts", it said.

In January, China’s Supreme Court said it would give environmental groups the power to sue before any pollution has occurred if they could show that a particular activity could threaten the public interest.

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