Co-hosted by the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims and the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law at the Vermont Law School
At the Environmental Public Interest Litigation Roundtable on July 7, 2014, environmental lawyers and representatives from various NGOs, such as Friends of Nature and Green Anhui, and INGOs, such as Green Peace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, convened to brainstorm how they would go forth with public interest litigation in January, 2015, when the new Environmental Protection Law will go into force. Professor Liu Xiang, director of the litigation department of CLAPV opened the discussion by presenting the past, current, and future practices and problems of EPIL. He closed his opening remarks with a few questions to be discussed later: What is the goal of EPIL? And what abilities do environmental NGOs have in the practice of EPIL?
Avi Garbow, General Counsel of the Environmental Protection Administration in the United States spoke about the critical need for citizen enforcement in environmental protection efforts. He explained the two key parts that make the citizen suits possible in the United States: each law has a provision to allow citizens to enforce the laws, and information is accessible by the public. He also praised the NGOs in the room for their work and emphasized the importance of such organizations, particularly in collaboration, to enforce environmental regulations. “Citizen enforcement represents the much needed opportunity for engagement,” he said.
A thorough Q&A session followed Mr. Garbow’s talk, as many of the NGO representatives were curious about the American environmental legal justice system and the role of the EPA. Before leaving for another engagement, Mr. Garbow also emphasized the precedence that would be set by the first cases taken on in 2015 after the new law is put into place. Since China is in a new stage of implementing new laws, lawyers should be mindful which cases to start with, as these would establish a basis for going forward.
This led to a fruitful discussion among the lawyers and NGO representatives about cases in 2014 and development for an EPIL strategy. NGO representatives discussed their roles and possible collaborations, as well as shared advice. The discussion circled back to Professor Liu’s first question. What is the goal of EPIL? Is it purely compensation? Is it the final judgment of the cases? Or is it to improve the environment? Lawyers and NGO representatives discussed the importance of deciding which values would be significant, what standards they wanted, and what kind of judgments might be ideal.
While the conference lasted nearly five hours, it still seemed like too short of a time period, and they agreed future meetings would be necessary. As Mr. Garbow said, China truly is entering a new stage in its development. EPIL can help improve China’s environmental situation and lead the way for a cleaner future.