Solve disputes, make polluters pay for environmental damage, prosecutors told
Qihe county in Shandong province has become the epicenter of a major environmental dispute, in which three individuals entrusted a group of 12 unqualified people with the unlawful acquisition of waste engine oil from over 50 motor vehicle repair businesses.
Operating without the necessary hazardous waste management permits, the group's actions led to severe environmental consequences across six counties and districts from February 2019 to June last year.
The case was recently highlighted by the Supreme People's Procuratorate as it seeks to guide legal entities in addressing disputes concerning critical public interest, such as environmental protection, wildlife preservation, and food and drug safety.
The SPP initiated a three-year special operation in July 2020 focusing on public interest litigation in an effort to safeguard vital interests. In this time span, prosecutors across the nation handled approximately 365,000 public interest litigation cases pertaining to environmental and resource protection, as well as food and drug safety. Additionally, they issued over 247,000 pretrial procuratorial suggestions and instigated around 25,000 lawsuits.
Notably, a substantial portion of these cases, approximately 198,000, were centered on drug safety and the illegal discharge of pollutants into water bodies.
Hu Weilie, the head of the SPP's eighth procuratorial office, emphasized that environmental and resource protection has emerged as the most prominent subject of public interest litigation prosecution, marked by the extensive number of cases related to the matter and significant societal implications. He underscored the increasing attention such cases are receiving from all segments of society.
Hu said that as a result of the operation, once a pressing environmental issue is resolved, a management system is implemented to address similar concerns to curb problems at their source. He further explained that measures, including punitive compensation for environmental infringements and environmental restoration efforts such as the subscription of carbon sinks, are being explored.
In the Shandong case, a third-party evaluation classified the waste oil as hazardous due to its toxic and flammable nature, warranting an environmental restoration fee of approximately 1.7 million yuan ($232,450).
In February this year, Qihe's procuratorate initiated public interest litigation against the involved parties, demanding joint responsibility. In April, a pretrial conference was convened at the county's court, during which the defendants expressed willingness to bear the corresponding compensation costs.
Based on the gravity of their offenses, the defendants paid compensation ranging from 18,000 yuan to 203,030 yuan. Additionally, they entrusted a company specializing in environmental restoration to oversee hazardous waste disposal and restoration efforts.
Zhang Xueqiao, the SPP's deputy prosecutor-general, acknowledged that collaborative protection spanning regions and departments poses both inevitable challenges and complexities in efforts to protect the environment and natural resources. Varying conditions and interest demands across provinces, regions and municipalities contribute to discrepancies in the efforts.
In response, the SPP and provincial procuratorates have prioritized tackling ecological and environmental issues that have had a seriously negative impact on society. When such concerns cross regions, the procuratorates opt for direct investigations to expedite resolutions.
For instance, the SPP has developed and implemented guidelines to enhance cooperation among procuratorial bodies in managing environmental and resource cases in the Yangtze River Basin. Over 20 cooperative mechanisms have been established by procuratorates at the provincial and municipal levels along the route.
Moreover, the SPP has begun guiding opinions on cross-administrative jurisdiction for procuratorial public interest litigation. With regional procuratorial cooperation opinions covering about 90 percent of the nation, Zhang emphasized that procuratorial entities will continue to promote collaboration with administrative organs, focus on special supervision of environmental pollution in pivotal regions, industries and sectors, and strengthen comprehensive environmental protection.