Green NGOs Win China's First Environmental Public Interest Litigation: The Nanping Case

Date01 December 2015
Green NGOs Win Chinas First
Environmental Public Interest
Litigation: The Nanping Case
by Yanmei Lin and Jack Tuholske
Yanmei Lin is an Associate Professor of Law and Associate Director at U.S.-Asia Partnerships for
Environmental Law at Vermont Law School. Jack Tuholske is Director of the Vermont Law School
Water and Justice Program and a Technical Advisor to the Partnerships program.
The September 2015 issue of News & Analysis looked
at China’s new Environmental Protection L aw,
including the rst environmental public interest
litigation (EPIL) case heard under it, the “Nanping ca se.”1
On October 29, 2015, the court ruled in t he environmen-
talists’ favor.2 e decision sends a strong signal that Chi-
nese courts have jurisdiction to enforce environmental laws
beyond awarding money damages for pollution injuries. It
may also signal a more active role for Chinese courts and
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in protecting
natural resources.
The Ruling
e court held the four defendants liable for damaging
1.89 hectares of forestry land due to illegal mining opera-
tions. e court ordered t he defendants to remove min-
ing materials and waste rock from the damaged site, to
restore the site by planting new trees, and to ensure suc-
cessful reforestation for three years. If they fail to comply
with the court order, the defendants will have to pay 1.1
million yuan ($180,000) to a special account designated
by the court for site remediation. e court also held the
defendants liable for 1.27 million yuan ($200,000) in eco-
logical interim losses, to be paid into a remediation account
for other ecological restoration projects. Finally, the court
awarded the plaintis expert consultation fees for assessing
damages (6,000 yuan, $968), attorneys fees (121,461 yuan,
$19,590), and litigation costs (38,702 yuan, $6,450). ere
were ve key issues decided by the court relevant to NGOs.
Standing: Article 58 of the new Environmental Protection
Law provides that Chinese social organizations can bring
suits on behalf of the public interest in situations involving
1. Yanmei Lin & Jack Tuholske, Field Notes From the Far East: China’s New
Public Interest Environmental Protection Law in Action, 45 ELR 20855 (Sept.
2. Friends of Nature, Fujian Green Home v. Xie Zhijin et al., Nan Min Chu
Zi No. 38 (Nanping Intermediate People’s Ct. Oct. 29, 2015).
pollution or ecological damage if the organizations: (1)reg-
istered w ith the civil aairs departments at or above the
municipal level within the d istrict; a nd (2) specia lized in
environmental protection public interest activities for ve
or more consecutive years.
Even though plainti Friends of Nature (FON) had
not technically been registered for ve years when it rst
led the c ase on December 4, 2014, the court held it had
standing because FON had been engaged in environmen-
tal protection public interest activities prior to registering,
and it met the ve-year registration requirement during the
adjudication of this case.
Defendants’ Liability:e court held that the defendants’
mining activities constituted ecological destruction harm-
ing the public interest for which they should bear joint and
several tort liability. Although the defendants claimed they
received “verbal approval” from loca l ocials, they lacked
the proper permits to clear trees and start mining opera-
tions. e court found irrelevant the defendants’ two pieces
of evidence they claimed legitimized the unpermitted min-
ing: meeting notes and an investiment policy notice.
Remedies: e key issue with regard to remedies wa s
whether the Supreme People’s Court’s (SPC’s) judicial
interpretation on EPIL could be applied to this case.3
Although the SPC’s interpretation was not eective until
January 7, 2015, years after the mining sta rted, the court
held that the judicial interpretation applied because there
was no clear rule denying liability on this matter when
the defendants’ actions occurred. e new law, however,
only supports interim losses of service functions during
the recovery of ecological environment. As such, FON and
Fujian Green Home, the second plainti NGO in the case,
3. SPC, I R C I R  A-
   L  E C P I L
(Jan. 7, 2015). Article 21 provides: Where plainti requests defendant to
aord damage of interim losses of service functions during the recovery of
ecological environment, people’s courts should support it according to law.
Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT