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Monday, August 29, 2016, 16:57

Pollution fees could become law of the land

By Zheng Jinran and Caoyin
Pollution fees could become law of the land
Pedestrians cross the road in Zhongguancun, Beijing, during a smoggy day in December. (Photo / China Daily)

A draft of China's first environmental protection tax law, submitted to the top legislative body for initial discussion on Monday, may impose heavier penalties on polluters than ever before.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress read the draft during its bimonthly meeting, from Monday to Saturday.

The draft designates four taxable types of pollution - airborne and water pollutants, solid waste and noise. Companies and individuals who directly discharge these would be subject to the tax, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei told the top legislators on Monday morning.

The draft adopted the current standards for pollutant discharge fees as the lower range, and provincial level governments would have the authority to raise tax fees based on the environmental situation in their jurisdictions, Lou said.

The draft also stipulates incentives to reduce emissions, saying the taxpayers could receive a 50 percent reduction if they lowered their airborne and water pollutant emissions by half of the national or provincial standards.

Municipal sewage and household waste treatment plants would be exempted from the tax, as would mobile pollution sources like vehicles, vessels and airplanes. Agricultural pollutants would also be excluded, though large-scale breeding farms would be taxed. The proposal would yield an estimated 22.8 billion yuan to 45.7 billion yuan (US$3.42 billion to US$6.85 billion) in annual tax revenue, according to State Administration of Taxation research.

Shi Zhengwen, a professor of fiscal and tax law at China University of Political Science and Law, said the proposed tax comes at a good time, considering the severe pollution in recent years and the ongoing economic reform.

"It's not an extra burden for companies, but a more standardized tax with stronger force, and easier for taxpayers to follow," Shi said, adding it would not greatly expand the existing fees.

But some small companies that generate huge emissions would face greater financial pressure. Because of this, the tax would help cull outdated capacity and force companies to improve their facilities and technologies, advancing the nation's transition toward green economic growth, he said.

The draft is seen as a major step in taxation and environmental protection, said Chang Jiwen, an expert in environmental policies at the State Council Development Research Center.

China began levying pollutant discharge fees in 2003. From 2003 to 2015, more than 211.6 billion yuan was collected.

Lou said those fees have been effective "in preventing and controlling environmental pollution", but local governments sometimes interfered or neglected to collect them, making it necessary to establish a law.

"It will be good to strengthen forces against polluting emissions from the root and avoid governments' administrative interference," the NPC's Financial and Economic Affairs Committee said.

Pollution fees could become law of the land

Draft law toughens fines for maritime pollution

NPC considers amendment that eliminates the ceiling on fines, requires ecological development

China is considering imposing harsher penalties on maritime polluters and removing the upper limit of fines in a move to more effectively protect the marine environment.

In a draft amendment to the Marine Environment Protection Law, submitted on Monday to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for first reading, the punitive cap of 300,000 yuan (US$44,800) in fines would be eliminated.

Instead, maritime polluters would face fines of up to 20 to 30 percent of direct losses caused by their pollution.

The amendment also adds provisions dealing with marine ecological compensation, according to a statement from the NPC Environment and Resources Protection Committee. The existing law has been in effect since January last year,

Zhao Jingwei, a lawyer representing fishermen damaged by an oil leak in Bohai Bay in June 2011, welcomed the heavier penalty because "it will be a great threat for potential polluters".

Energy giant Conoco Phillips said in January 2012 that it would pay 1 billion yuan to settle all claims arising from the oil leaks from its Penglai 19-3 oilfield in Bohai Bay.

Similar marine pollution has been common over the past few years, "and the effect brought by them has sometimes been very harmful to people and the environment," said Wang Zhenyu, an environmental lawyer.

But Wang said that increasing penalties is not enough by itself, and the most important thing in protecting the marine environment is prevention.

"What I care most about is how law enforcers deal with the fines and how to make sure the punishment process is transparent," he said.

In addition to more severe punishments, the amended law also sets a bottom line for marine developers, requiring them to make ecological protection a priority.

"As to the mining of marine resources, we should make a reasonable development layout in line with functional ocean divisions to strictly protect key marine ecological areas and vulnerable regions," said Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming.

The draft amendment would impose restrictions on development in sea areas that have not met the target for environmental protection or whose major pollutant discharge has exceeded standards, Jiang said.

The Marine Environment Protection Law was enacted in 1982 and comprehensively revised in 1999.

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