China’s first national legislation on soil pollution, the Soil Pollution Prevention Law of People’s Republic of China, came into effect on January 1, 2019. It was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on August 31 last year. Filling the legal void in this regard, the new law defines and highlights responsibilities for pollution prevention and control and particularly focuses on lands used for construction projects and agriculture.
Regulatory Responsibilities of Authorities
The new law has strengthened the responsibilities of governments in regulating soil pollution. In the appraisal of local governments and departments for soil pollution prevention above county level and their individual leaders, one criterion will be their performance in achieving goals of soil pollution prevention.
The environmental protection authority of the State Council should design a set of national standards for soil pollution risk control. Provincial governments are allowed to develop local standards that are stricter than the national ones. Meanwhile, the monitoring of soil pollution is further enhanced: a nationwide soil condition census should be conducted at least once every 10 years, and a network of monitoring stations are required to be established across the country with data they collect shared among other authorities. Moreover, special funds dedicated to soil pollution control will be established at both central and provincial levels, in a bid to provide financial support for pollution control and soil restoration.
Compliance Obligations of Enterprises
The law requires that land use rights holders and relevant businesses should take effective measures to prevent and reduce soil pollution and assume responsibility for soil pollution they cause. Soil polluters are primarily responsible for controlling soil pollution risks and restoring the polluted soil. However, if those who have polluted the soil cannot be identified, land use rights holders will be held accountable, and local governments will allocate responsibility when any dispute arises.
The costs associated with soil status surveys, soil pollution risk assessment and control, assessment of restoration results and follow-up management will be covered by those held responsible for soil pollution. Meanwhile, entities and individuals causing soil pollution could face penalties of up to RMB 2 million; by contrast, organizations which are engaged in soil pollution risk management, control and restoration will receive certain tax incentives.
Greater Public Participation and Data Disclosure
According to the law, the environmental protection authority of the State Council should screen and evaluate toxic and hazardous substances in the soil and make an inventory of such substances public; environmental authorities in governments at the municipal level or above should design and publish the inventory of businesses subject to substantial supervision; and authorities of environmental protection and natural resources in provincial governments should publish a list of construction lands subject to soil pollution risk management and control and soil restoration and update it on a regular basis.
Relevant authorities will include information concerning soil pollution in the social credit records of businesses, and publish such information on the National Credit Information Sharing Platform and the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System. Meanwhile, earlier on December 26, 2018, the national soil environment information platform was launched and brought into operation. Information like soil condition census reports, monitoring data, investigation reports, and assessment reports of soil pollution risks, risk management results and restoration results should be uploaded to the platform in a timely manner.