New Chinese Air Law Integrates Energy and Environmental Policy


The National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted revisions to China’s air law on August 29th that will go into effect on January 1, 2016. Last revised in 2000, the new law is intended to respond to and reduce the severe air pollution that has plagued many Chinese cities and regions in the last several years. Though details are still being sorted out, and an English translation is not yet available, the law appears to incorporate several of RAP’s key recommendations aimed at strengthening the law and explicitly linking air quality planning to energy planning. Those provisions are summarized below.

RAP recommended that the new law authorize the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) to set ambient standards and to revise them periodically. Prior to these revisions, MEP had the authority to develop rules, notices, plans, and regulations, but not law. Article 12 indicates that the ambient standards and ambient pollution emission standards should be evaluated periodically, and revised appropriately according to the evaluation results. The law does not specify who will evaluate and revise the standards, though the requirement to review and update the standards periodically is a promising first step towards making the law self-implementing.

Due to the contribution that electricity generation makes to air pollution, and the ability of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies to reduce pollution, RAP recommends explicitly linking energy policy and air quality. In Article 32, the revised air law directs departments under State Council and local governments to take measures to re-adjust energy structure, promote the production and usage of clean energy, optimize coal utilization, promote clean and efficient usage of coal, reduce coal as a primary energy source, and reduce the air pollution from coal production, utilization, and processing.

Article 41 requires coal power plants to adopt clean technology and install equipment to control air pollution emissions. Article 42 further requires that in electricity dispatch decisions clean energy generation be given priority status, and several other articles specify that cities and provinces can further expand upon the “clean fuel zones” that were initially established.

Article 86 of the revised air law creates a “good neighbor provision” aimed at reducing transport of pollution from one region to another. The national government will develop air pollution joint prevention and control systems for key regions and coordinate the air pollution prevention work in key regions. State Council will define those key regions according to the major functions, air pollution transport rules, and regional air quality.

Article 89 adds to this by requiring provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities in the key regions to notify neighboring provinces about projects that may cause severe air quality impairment. The host province, region, or municipality must hold a consultation, which will be used in project approval proceedings or environmental impact assessment reviews.

The revised law specifies that several categories of industrial facilities should be required to obtain discharge permits under Article 19—another key RAP recommendation.

Article 99 establishes a penalty for discharging air pollution without obtaining a discharge permit. The company will be required to suspend business during rectification and face a fine between RMB100,000 and RMB1,000,000. Those companies causing severe air pollution may be forced to close entirely.

Law in China is not the specific, directive framework that is typical of the United States or the European Union. Rather, to a Westerner, Chinese law reads more like policy, and can appear somewhat vague at first. Implementation and enforcement of law is critical, and RAP will closely follow initial implementation efforts, as they will likely establish the precedent to follow. RAP will also continue to analyze and evaluate the revised air law over the next several weeks, and provide a comprehensive analysis when more complete information is available.