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CHINA, May 23, China.org.cn - These were the concerns on the minds of many when a revised version of the law was presented to the Standing Committee of the 12th National People's Congress for a fourth time on Monday.

5.24 Stronger environment bill

[By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

It is 25 years since the Environmental Protection Law was first adopted in 1999, and it has been clear for some time that a tougher law is needed.

However, the NPC Standing Committee has read three amended versions of the law in the past three years and each time sent it back, which has delivered the message that some articles are very contentious.

The stipulation that only the All-China Environment Federation and its provincial subsidiaries are qualified to file a public interest lawsuit against polluting acts was strongly opposed in 2013 when the amended law was published for public opinions.

Over the past 25 years, the contamination of soil by heavy metals, the repeated incidents of drinking water contamination and the increasingly serious air pollution have undoubtedly increased people's awareness of the need for better environmental protection.

That explains the public's aversion to the article that mandates only the ACEF to file a public interest action against polluters. And it also explains the growing concerns over whether the revised law will be fit for purpose.

That more than 70 percent of the country's rivers are polluted to different degrees and nearly 20 percent of its arable land contaminated means there is no time to lose if we are to prevent the country's environment from becoming polluted beyond remedy.

This fourth revision of the law is said to specify much harsher penalties for polluting acts - a local government leader may be detained when a project starts without an environmental impact assessment and much higher fines will be imposed on polluting enterprises.

And it is said that although it will still not be possible for individuals or unregistered social groups to instigate litigation procedures against polluters, the mandate for filing a lawsuit against polluters in the public interest will be extended to lower level registered social organizations.

So there is reason to hope that the amended law will be more forceful in facilitating environmental protection and expand the room for the public's participation in the fight against pollution.

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