WATER EMERGENCY: Residents of a community in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, receive water allocated by the local government on April 11 after excessive levels of benzene, a carcinogenic chemical, was found in the city's tap water supply (ZHANG MENG)
On April 24, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, approved the most sweeping revisions of the Environmental Protection Law in more than two decades. The changes bring the promise of tougher penalties for those polluting the environment.
Environmental experts have welcomed the amendments, saying that they could not have come at a better time.
For the past 25 years, the law had not been changed since it took effect in 1989. In August 2012, a draft amendment was submitted to the NPC Standing Committee for its first deliberation, starting the two-year amendment process.
After heated debates and four readings of the draft, the much-anticipated revisions expanded the law to add 23 new articles, bringing the total up to 70. The additions ensure that environmental protection is enshrined as the country's overriding priority, and include specific articles and provisions on tackling smog.
The revised law will go into effect from January 1, 2015.
Chai Fahe, Vice President of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, said that he was impressed by the new law. "With its long-term scope and legally binding solution, the amended law has prepared a sound legal basis for pollution prevention and control and will guarantee their implementation," he said.
Chai also praised the new law's clear stipulations on local governments' responsibility to ensure environmental quality and the accountability system that will punish those who fail to do so. He suggests that such provisions should be enforced with effective measures.
Chai added that the new law is also expected to advance amendment to other environmental laws, such as the Law on Air Pollution Control, which experts believe needs more detailed, specific and practical terms.
Legislations on air, water and soil pollution were included in the NPC Standing Committee's five-year legislation plan for 2013-18, which was released last October.
It's reported that a draft amendment to the Law on Air Pollution Control will be tabled for the first reading in the NPC Standing Committee in December, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is working on a draft soil pollution control law. Preparatory work on a water pollution control law allegedly has also started.
Zhao Deming, an NPC Standing Committee member, said that air, water and soil are the basic components of the environment. The enactment and revision of laws concerning the prevention and control of air, water and soil pollution will facilitate the implementation of the Environmental Protection Law, according to him.
The new law will be a strong measure for dealing with pollution, said Yuan Jie, Director of the Office for Administrative Law with the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.
The law says that the country ought to establish and improve an environment and health monitoring, survey and risk assessment mechanism.
"This would help to curb the pollution at its source," Yuan said.