Two Chinese Public Interest Groups Win Landmark Environmental Lawsuit in China

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In a seminal judicial decision, a court in China’s Fujian province ruled on October 29, 2015 in favor of two environmental NGOs who brought suit against four defendants under China’s revised Environmental Protection Law for causing environmental damage associated with an unapproved quarry.  The two NGOs, Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home, accused the four defendants of severely damaging 1.89 hectares of vegetation on a hillside in Nanping City after they developed a quarry without prior approval.  The defendants began developing the quarry in 2008 and, despite being told by local authorities to cease operations, continued to do so and caused extensive environmental damage.  The court ordered the defendants to pay a 1.27 million yuan ($200,000) fine and to remove all mining materials and waste rock from the site within five months.  Failure to timely comply with the court’s order will lead to an additional 1 million yuan ($157,000) fine.  The defendants  were also held responsible for the costs associated with an environmental audit to assess the damage to the site, as well as plaintiffs’ legal and court fees, which total around 165,00 yuan ($26,000).

The court’s decision is the first notable reported “citizen suit” decision since China’s amended Environmental Protection Law went into effect on January 1, 2015, (see B&D alert from January 9, 2015) and China’s Supreme People’s Court issued a judicial interpretation on environmental civil public interest litigation shortly thereafter (see B&D alert from January 28, 2015).  Many believe this lawsuit could mark a turning point in public interest environmental litigation in China, a potential development that warrants close monitoring.             

Beveridge & Diamond advises Chinese companies on the environmental considerations of doing business in the U.S. and, through relationships with a network of Chinese national law firms, on environmental issues faced by multinational companies doing business in China.  Firm Principal Karl Bourdeau regularly travels to China and fosters dialogue among various stakeholders regarding China’s evolving environmental regulatory regime.  For more information, please contact the authors or any member of our China Practice.