A pilot reform obliging polluters to pay hefty sums to repair the environment after causing major damage will go nationwide starting next year, which will improve the efficiency of its efforts to protect the environment, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.
By 2020, improvements will lead to the establishment of an efficient comprehensive damage compensation system to repair damage, including to the air, water, soil and forests, according to the document issued on Sunday by the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.
It added that if polluters — individuals and companies — caused severe pollution or environmental deterioration, they should repair the damage or pay for the losses if the damage is beyond restoration.
City and provincial governments will decide the amount of compensation and produce restoration plans after finishing their assessments, and they can sue polluters who fail to implement the measures, it said.
China has conducted pilot projects since 2015 in Jilin, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hunan, Chongqing, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, with notable progress made, according to the document.
Unlike in the pilots, city governments now will have the right to lead assessments and claims for compensation.
"It will improve work efficiency to better protect the environment since city governments are confronted with more cases than provincial governments," a Ministry of Environmental Protection statement said.
Experience gained in pilot and nationwide projects is expected to help strengthen future legislation on ecological damage compensation, "filling the legal gap in China," said Wang Jinnan, president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning.
"It also has helped solve the problem in which companies pollute the environment, the public suffers and governments pay," said Xiong Dewei, head of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Guizhou, People's Daily reported.
Guizhou registered the country's first completed compensation case. A fertilizer plant in Guiyang, the capital, hired a company to illegally dump over 80,000 cubic meters of untreated waste in the village of Dayingtian starting in 2012, severely contaminating the groundwater and causing environmental degradation.
The plant received only administrative punishment before the pilot started in 2016, leaving the environment severely polluted.
After Guizhou started the pilot, it led the assessment and made the plant pay 9 million yuan ($1.36 million) to remove waste and make repairs. Trees will be planted in the spring on the land and other measures will be taken to reduce the pollution, Xiong said.