Polluter should pay every day, says top Chinese official

Polluting industrial facilities should be fined daily until they meet legal emissions standards, according to the chairman of China's national Environmental & Resources Protection Committee.

Under China’s current system, pollution fines are capped at a certain level and companies habitually treat the penalties as a kind of tax which is cheaper to pay than rectifying the problem would be.

In short, industry is better off pumping toxic discharges into the local river than it is installing equipment to reduce pollutants.

But there are indications that could soon change after Mao Rubai, a prominent figure in China’s governing National People’s Congress, told state newspaper China Daily that he would like to see persistent polluters fined every day they refused to clean up their act.

“The punishment should be calculated from the day that factory is found guilty of pollution discharge until the day its emissions meet environmental protection requirements,” he told the paper on Saturday.

“If the cap is removed the factories (will) fully realize the importance of abiding by environmental protection law.”

The cap is usually set at 200,000 yuan (£13,500) and once a polluter has paid that amount, they are free to continue pumping out toxic wastewater.

However, China’s State Environmental Protection Administration may raise the fine cap to 1 million yuan (£67,500) if the pollution has caused serious enough environmental damage and economic loss.

Only one company has ever paid the million yuan fine, however, after wastewater from its fertiliser factory killed 500 tonnes of fish and left over a million people without easy access to water for over a month.

Mao’s comment was timed to coincide with ongoing discussions about the revision of the Clean Water Act of 1984.

It also follows a joint study by SEPA and the Beijing office of US-based Environmental Defence which took samples from wastewater treatment outlets at 200 factories and considered what enforcement methods might persuade factory operators to reduce pollution.

It concluded that daily fines of around 40,000 yuan (£2,700) per day would be severe enough to change the behaviour of polluters. This figure could rise to 100,000 yuan (£6,750) per day if rapid economic growth in China continues.

Equivalent daily fines in the USA are around double that upper limit, at $25,000.

Sam Bond

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