Authorities raise punishment for data tampering
Major polluting firms that falsify monitoring data or tamper with monitoring facilities will be charged with the crime of major environmental pollution accident, according to an updated judicial interpretation co-issued by the supreme court and procuratorate on Monday.
The major polluters will also be charged with the crime of destroying computer information systems, if they force, instigate or incite others to modify the monitoring data, said the interpretation that will become effective on January 1, 2017.
The addition of new violations to the interpretation is an attempt to overcome the challenges associated with evidence gathering in air pollution-related cases, Yan Maokun, an official with the Supreme People's Court, said at a press conference, news site chinanews.com reported.
In China, the monitors are supposedly installed by the companies themselves while sealed and supervised by the environmental protection authorities or an independent qualified third party, said Wang Canfa, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law.
However, it happens rather frequently that company owners tamper with the samplings in an attempt to cut the cost, Wang noted.
In April 2015, a coking plant in Xingtai, North China's Hebei Province was found to have "maliciously discharged pollutants" and fabricated monitoring data. Xingtai's environmental bureau fined the company 2.45 million yuan (2,619), and two members of its management team were detained for seven days, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"The interpretation marks a significant progress in environmental protection as it shows the prosecutors and public security departments have begun to play a more active role in spotting environmental protection-related issues, instead of simply relying on environmental protection departments," said Xia Jun, an environmental lawyer with the All China Lawyers' Association.
A better supervision system for law enforcement needs tip-offs from the public, feedback from the auto-inspection monitors, investigation by the public security departments and prosecutors, in addition to traditional environmental protection departments at all levels, Wang said.
The interpretation also illustrates that heavier punishment will be handed to the convicts if they are found to be discharging air pollutants including sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide once alerts for heavy pollution are launched.
According to Beijing's newly revised extreme weather emergency response mechanism, which became effective on December 15, more than 1,200 factories in the capital were required to either suspend or cut output after the first red alert for smog this year.
The State Council, China's cabinet, has punished two steelmakers - Jiangsu Huada Steel Co and Hebei Anfeng Steel Co - for violating rules and regulations, reflecting the government's resolve to control output.
Huada, located in East China's Jiangsu Province, has illegally produced steel, which had a negative impact on the local industry, read the statement. Anfeng, located in North China's Hebei Province, was ordered to tear down its obsolete furnaces, according to a statement published on the central government's website on Monday.
Two officials, Hebei's Vice Governor Zhang Jiehui and Jiangsu's Vice Governor Ma Qiulin, have also been punished for the companies' violations.