Qingzhen City, Guizhou Province ¨C Zhao Huanju Sues Qingzhen City Jili Ceramics Co., Ltd., Ying Maier Ceramics Co., Ltd., and Huawei Ceramics Co., Ltd. for Compensation of Atmospheric Pollution Injuries
Assisted Parties: Zhao Huanju, who belongs to a family of tomato growers in Qingzhen city
On October 26, 2010, Guizhou Television Station¡¯s ¡°Common People¡¯s Concerns¡± television program broadcasted ¡°The Riddle of Lowered Tomato Production,¡± which reported on the Qingzhen city family of Zhao Huanju, which has suffered enormous economic losses in lowered crop yields due to atmospheric pollution from surrounding ceramics companies. In the beginning of December, attorney Xie Hong of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (¡°CLAPV¡±) heard of that report through a friend, and after research, determined that the possibility of pollution injury was fairly large. Soon after, Xie Hong contacted Zhao Huanju through the television program¡¯s reporter and sought to learn more. On December 9, Xie Hong traveled to Guiyang from Beijing to do an on-site investigation.
In early 2010, Zhao leased 24.7 acres for growing tomatoes and sorghum. The land was surrounded by three ceramics companies ¨C Jili, Ying Maier, and Huawei ¨C all of which were businesses recruited by the Qingzhen city government to promote investment. According to an explanation given by technician Wu Zefu, during its early growth stage, the plant was growing slowly, or even dying prematurely. There was an oily substance stuck to the surface of the vegetables, making it extremely easy for them to rot. Wu suspected that emissions of the three ceramics companies were the cause. Since Zhao was not familiar with the law, most of the evidence had already been lost or was not saved, and it would be fairly difficult to prove the economic loss. However, after further analysis, it was decided to demand compensation for direct and indirect economic losses jointly from the three ceramics companies. Suit was filed in the Environmental Protection Court of the Qingzhen People¡¯s Court.
The primary events in the course of litigating this matter are as follows:
1. On December 28, 2010, a request for relevant environmental information was submitted to the Qingzhen Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) asking for information on the three companies including their abridged Environmental Impact Assessment reports; the circumstances of these reports¡¯ submission, examination, and approval; the circumstances involved in issuing pollution permits to the companies; and the circumstances related to the companies¡¯ payment of pollution fees. On January 21, 2011, the EPB responded, but the information provided was incomplete.
2. On December 31, 2010, the case was accepted by the court and filed. At the same time, the plaintiff submitted an Application for Delayed Payment of Filing Fees, a Request to Survey the Location, and a Request to Investigate and Collect Evidence. With the court¡¯s approval, payment of filing fees was postponed.
3. On January 24, 2011, tomato and sorghum market prices and wholesale prices for the latter half of 2010 were sought from the Commodities Market Price Bureau. For tomatoes, only the market prices were obtained.
4. On January 26, 2011, investigation with witnesses was conducted in Qingzhen. Witnesses and some farming households provided testimony, primarily regarding the amount of land being farmed, farming conditions, the circumstances of the companies¡¯ pollution, etc.
5. On February 14, 2011, sorghum production-per-acreage and government purchase prices for the year 2010 were obtained from Renhuai city, Guizhou.
6. On February 21, 2011, the Guiyang Environmental Monitoring Center sent staff to Zhao Huanju¡¯s leased farmland to obtain four soil samples and one wellwater sample, for the purpose of monitoring whether the pH and fluoride levels exceeded standards.
7. On March 29, 2011, the judges of the Environmental Court organized for both sides¡¯ attorneys to exchange evidence and conduct on-site investigations.
8. On April 22, 2011, the Guiyang Environmental Monitoring Center issued its ¡°Monitoring Report,¡± which found that the fluoride levels of all obtained soil samples exceeded standards.
9. On April 25, 2011, the Qingzhen Environmental Protection Court held the trial in this matter. During the trial, the plaintiff provided several witnesses whose testimony mutually corroborated facts such as the defendant¡¯s pollution of the surrounding area; the amount of land farmed by the plaintiff; the circumstances involving crop growth and the reductions in crop yield; and the production amount and price of crops. Their testimony also forcefully refuted the defendants¡¯ evidence as well as the defendants¡¯ denial of the causal relationship between their polluting acts and the reduction in crop yield. After the trial, the two sides wished to talk settlement, but the defendant did not offer any specific settlement proposals. On April 27, Guizhou City Paper published a fairly exhaustive report on this matter.
On June 3, 2011, at the direction of the Qingzhen People¡¯s Environmental Protection Court, representatives of the Social Conflict Investigation Center, the Petitions Bureau, the Environmental Protection Bureau, the Agriculture Bureau, the Forestry Bureau, and the Office of the Qinglong Sub-District; and the plaintiff, defendants, and their respective lawyers all participated in settlement discussions. After many rounds of negotiations, the three defendants agreed to jointly compensate the plaintiff, and the plaintiff requested dismissal of his suit. The court granted the plaintiff¡¯s request and waived court costs.
Significance of Aid Provided and Effect:
The plaintiff in this matter suffered enormous economic losses and was unable to shoulder the court filing fee. CLAPV provided him with legal assistance; assigned attorneys to handle his case without charge; and before the case was registered, CLAPV submitted a request, later approved, that the court waive the filing fee. Further, during litigation, CLAPV advanced 2,000 RMB for testing expenses; this eased the plaintiff¡¯s economic difficulties. In addition, the judges of the Environmental Court have attended CLAPV practical legal trainings, which allowed the judges to communicate more effectively with environmental lawyers during the trial in this matter, and benefited the judges¡¯ understanding of the issues such as the shift in the burden of proof and economic loss calculations.