China’s courts will widen the range of offences that constitute “environmental crimes” to make it easier to take legal action against polluters, a senior judiciary official told a news briefing on Monday.
The new rules could allow prosecutors to take on persistent offenders in northern China’s Hebei province, which was engulfed in heavy smog last week despite being on the front line of China’s nearly three-year “war on pollution”.
Yan Maokun, head of a research office at the Supreme People’s Court, told reporters authorities had struggled to gather evidence required to prosecute, according to a transcript of a briefing published on China’s official court website .
“Air pollution is different from water pollution or soil pollution, and it is extremely difficult to get evidence for air pollution crimes because after the pollution is emitted it undergoes a large degree of dispersal, and is very quickly diluted,” Yan said.
Prosecutors would focus on specific offences such as tampering with sensor equipment or providing false emissions data, and firms found guilty would be punished regardless of the amount of pollution involved, he said.
Public anger is mounting in China about pollution, and what many see as government talk, but little action, to end it. Worry about pollution has on occasion sparked protests.
Eight cities in Hebei launched “red alerts” last week in response to the smog, which reached record levels at some monitoring stations.
Hebei came under fire from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and a number of its steel firms were singled out for failing to suspend operations.
Governor Zhang Qingwei said in the province’s first official response that the province would learn lessons and step up its efforts.
According to a separate notice, officials said on Sunday that despite the recent smog, caused in part by “the most unfavourable weather conditions since 1998”, Hebei was on course to meet its goals, with emissions in Shijiazhuang set to drop about 12% this year.