Establishment of fund at national, provincial levels a 'breakthrough'
The country's first national law on soil pollution and control came into force on Tuesday, defining responsibilities for pollution and establishing a special fund for the costs of remediation.
If those who have polluted the soil cannot be identified, those who currently have the right to use the land will be responsible, and if there is a dispute, local governments will be empowered to allocate responsibility, according to the new Soil Pollution Prevention and Control Law.
Local environmental and natural resources authorities will determine responsibility when soil pollution occurs in various circumstances. If farmland is polluted, another two local authorities－agriculture, and forestry/grassland－will also be involved in the work.
The law also stipulates that the cost to the local government in controlling the pollution will be covered by those who bear the responsibility.
These local government bodies will determine responsibility according to strict procedures to be drafted by environmental authorities under the State Council, said Zhang Guilong, an official of the legislative work committee of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
The establishment of a special fund for soil pollution control at both central and provincial levels is also included in the law as a way to address the money needed for pollution control and soil remediation. It also addresses pollution that occurred before the law was passed if the polluter can be identified.
"It's a breakthrough for the law to include the fund", which is key to establishing a financial support system for risk control and pollution remediation, said Wang Fengchun, an official with the NPC's environmental protection and resources conservation committee.
The law doesn't define the ratio that the two levels of government should contribute to remediation work, but Wang said it's still too early to do the job, as China hasn't figured out how much of its soil is polluted or determined the resources needed annually for investigation, monitoring, assessment and remediation.
Companies and people in the soil pollution control industry will be severely punished if they fake reports for soil pollution investigation and risk assessment, under the law.
If the circumstances are serious, enterprises will be permanently banned from conducting business in the industry, and people involved in the violations will be disqualified from working in the industry for 10 years.
Those who commit crimes in their work will be banned from working in the industry. Companies that collude with the polluters will bear joint responsibility for environmental damage.
Liu Youbin, spokesman for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said the ministry will accelerate the draft of supporting policies for the law and urged local authorities to shoulder their supervision responsibilities.
The ministry will also enhance law enforcement related to soil contamination and severely crack down on criminal violations, he said at a news conference on Friday.
To improve China's soil quality, the top environmental watchdog has launched a big data platform on soil pollution to facilitate supervision and published a technical guideline on assessing damage from soil contamination.