I. Chaoyang District, Beijing, Environmental and Civil Public Interest Litigation ¨C Friends of Nature Environment Studies Center, Chongqing Green Volunteers Union, Qujing Environmental Protection Agency v. Luliang Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. of Yunnan Province, Luliang Peace Science and Technology Co., Ltd. of Yunnan Province
Assisted Parties: Friends of Nature Environment Studies Center, Chongqing Green Volunteers Union
Parties Being Sued: Yunnan Province Luliang Chemical Industry Co., Ltd., Yunnan Province Luliang Peace Science and Technology Co., Ltd.
On the morning of June 12, 2011, at the Zhang family-operated village council of Yunnan Province, Qujing city, Qilin District, Sanbao town, a group from Wanzi Village reported that goats they were breeding as livestock died. After verifying the situation, Sanbao Town quickly reported the issue to the district committee, district government and the Environmental Protection Department. Resulting from this, Luliang Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. was discovered to be engaging in long-term illegal accumulation and handling of chromium dregs on the bank of the Nanpan River. Its behavior had already severely polluted and threatened the surrounding environment, water sources, soil, and human health. Media reports on this matter triggered widespread concern. Upon hearing news of this situation, the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (¡°CLAPV¡±) of the China University of Political Science and Law (¡°CUPL¡±) lawyers began closely monitoring developments and actively contacting other environmental protection organizations. CLAPV¡¯s hope was to use legal means to prevent further pollution, eliminate the dangers posed by the chromium dregs already accumulated, and rehabilitate the local environment. On August 25, 2011, members of the environmental public interest organization ¡°Friends of Nature¡± traveled to Luliang County, Qujing, Yunnan Province to investigate. After concluding the investigation, a group of public interest lawyers was formally organized to litigate the matter; lawyers Liu Xiang and Dai Renhui participated on behalf of CLAPV.
Chromium salt is an important industrial raw material; approximately 10% of products in the national economy have a relationship with chromium salt, and the market¡¯s demand for products containing chromium is high. Primarily, chromium salt companies refine chromium and related chemical compounds from chromium iron mines, and the production process results in the creation of large quantities of chromium dregs. Available information indicates that less advanced technology refines chromium salt at an efficiency rate of 75%, and that producing 1 ton of chromium salt results in the creation of 2.5-3 tons of highly toxic chromium dregs. Whenever chromium has not been converted into a fixed product ¨C into an insoluble state ¨C the chromium remains in an ionized state, and when it encounters water, it is immediately dissolved, and quickly becomes extremely toxic hexavalent chromium. When hexavalent chromium flows into nearby surface water or permeates a surface water body, it causes severe pollution to the surface water, groundwater, and soil; when hexavalent chromium comes in contact with skin, it can cause allergies. Hexavalent chromium can enter the body extremely easily through digestion, inhalation, skin contact, or contact with mucous membranes, and once absorbed, it is accumulated in the bodies of humans and animals. Inhalation of certain concentrations of hexavalent chromium will lead to a runny nose, sneezing, itchiness, nosebleeds, ulceration and perforation of the nasal septum, or possibly cancer. In the recently published ¡°25th Comprehensive Plan on the Prevention of Heavy Metal Pollution,¡± chromium along with heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, and metalloid arsenic were all listed as key pollutants targeted for monitoring and emission control. According to investigations by the team of environmental lawyers, two polluting companies were illegally accumulating chromium dregs on the bank of the Nanpan River, causing severe pollution to the Nanpan River and surrounding farmlands and farmers, thereby jointly engaging in environmental pollution. According to the Environmental Impact Assessment Law, the two polluting companies should abide by the requirements of the local environmental protection department, namely, using all chromium dregs created in the production process for the production of chromium powder, thereby achieving the goal of ¡°no external discharge of industrial waste.¡± However, the team of lawyers discovered that not only were the two polluters discharging industrial waste, but they had also already accumulated close to 150,000 tons of chromium dregs on the riverbank. The two polluters¡¯ actions had already caused pollution on the bank of the Nanpan River, and even more serious is that this pollution had already spread to the farmlands and residents in the vicinity.
According to expert analysis, the harm and damage caused by the two polluting companies to the local environment are extremely severe, and the process of rehabilitation and recovery would be long and arduous. The two polluters¡¯ actions not only severely damaged the local natural environment, but also produced harm for surrounding farmlands and the bodily health of local residents. This type of disregard and wanton trampling of the law should be investigated and punished. In light of these reasons and pursuant to Section 15 of the Civil Litigation Law, CLAPV supported Friends of Nature Environment Studies Center of Chaoyang District, Beijing and Chongqing Green Volunteers Union in bringing a civil, public interest environmental suit against Luliang Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. of Yunnan Province and Luliang Peace Science and Technology Co., Ltd. of Yunnan Province, with the hope of ceasing pollution and protecting the local environment through legal means. On September 20, 2011, Friends of Nature and members of the litigation team filed litigation in the Qujing County Middle People¡¯s Court. At the same time, CLAPV submitted to the court a brief in support of the litigation. On the afternoon of October 19, 2011, the court formally registered the case. The case is currently being tried.
This case¡¯s registration by the court and its entry into the litigation process represents a historic breakthrough for China, and is also a very good start for Chinese public interest litigation by disinterested, unrelated parties. The process of the court¡¯s accepting and trying this case will further promote China¡¯s legislative progress related to public interest litigation, and will have a profound influence on the revisions to the Civil Litigation Law and the Administrative Litigation Law. Regardless of whether in relation to a civil society environmental NGO¡¯s qualifications to act as a plaintiff, or CLAPV¡¯s ability to participate in the litigation as a supporting organization, this matter symbolizes an enormous breakthrough for environmental public interest litigation. This case will offer lessons for study related to how to bring grassroots environmental NGOs into play in environmental, civil, public interest litigation, and how lawyers can provide legal assistance in environmental public interest litigation.