Two Chinese Public Interest Groups Win Landmark Environmental Lawsuit in China
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, and China’s Supreme People’s Court issued a judicial interpretation on environmental civil public interest litigation shortly thereafter. Many believe this lawsuit could mark a turning point in public interest environmental litigation in China, a potential development that warrants close monitoring.