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U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law


Introduction

Rapid economic growth has led to unprecedented environmental and health problems in China that extend far beyond its borders.  China urgently needs leaders to implement and enforce environmental laws and regulations, as well as policymakers and educators to develop the next generation of environmental advocates.

The U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law was founded in 2006 to further the work of governmental and private organizations that address critical environmental and energy challenges; improve policy, law, and regulation; and develop sustainable best practices in environmental protection and energy regulation.  Partnership programs enhance public participation and educate leaders through advocacy, policy, research, capacity building, and student opportunities.

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Recent Highlights

USAID CONTRIBUTES TO PRIVATE AND PUBLIC EFFORTS TO CREATE EFFECTIVE LEGAL TOOLS TO ADDRESS CHINA'S ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS

In the face of severe environmental degradation, the Chinese government as well as private citizens are searching for tools to protect the environment.  In 2012, the government amended the Civil Procedure Law to allow for public interest litigation, enabling non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and relevant governmental agencies to sue on behalf of the public to protect the environment.  This was the first legislative recognition of public interest standing in China's history and a significant success for the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law (PEL) and other advocates of public interest litigation. China's framework Environmental Protection Law is currently under revision for the first time since its enactment in 1989, and PEL is working closely with the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to provide technical assistance to China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and China's Supreme People's Court to advance public interest litigation and discharge data transparency.  On December 18, 2012, PEL provided technical assistance on legislative needs and legal tools at the third Green Dialogue on Legislative Reform hosted by MEP and the USEPA. The following day, the PEL hosted a workshop bringing together experts from the USEPA Office of General Counsel and Chinese scholars who are commissioned by China's Supreme People's Court and the MEP to draft environmental laws and provide legal interpretations.  The outcome of the workshop was the identification of three principals that Chinese scholars would incorporate into draft legislation: 1) the public's right to enforce law and to sue on behalf of the public interest; 2) broader powers for government bodies to hold polluters liable for environmental damage; and 3) new laws to ensure the veracity and public disclosure of pollution discharge data.

 

VLS RECEIVES $1.5 MILLION GRANT TO CREATE "LEGAL ECOSYSTEM" IN SOUTHWEST CHINA

Vermont Law School has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. State Department to support a three-year project designed to improve environmental and public health in China.  The U.S.-China Partnership will work with Southwest Forestry University in Kunming, Yunnan Province, to create a "legal ecosystem" that includes an environmental and biodiversity law clinic to serve non-governmental organizations, communities and underserved citizens.  The school will host workshops to educate environmental leaders, lawyers and citizens on legal avenues to address environmental and public health issues.

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CHINESE JUDGES STUDY ENVIRONMENTAL ADJUDICATION

From July 23 through August 16, 2012, the Partnership hosted a delegation of Chinese judges learning practical skills and methods for adjudicating environmental law cases. In recent years, many specialized courts have been established in China to address the increase in severe environmental cases that are being litigated.  However, judges in these courts lack sufficient knowledge of environmental law and the tools to render effective remedies.

To build their capacity, the Partnership organized a four-week study tour program in summer 2012 for twelve senior judges from eleven provinces and three instructors from China's National Judges College.  In the first two weeks, the judges attended full-day classes taught by judges and professors in Vermont, and met with the Vermont Supreme Court, Attorney General's office and the Department of Environmental Conservation.  They then travelled to the New York State Judicial Institute for a full-day session with the U.S.judges.  In Washington D.C., the judges spent a day with attorneys and judges from the USEPA Environmental Appeals Board and the Department of Justice, and learned how environmental NGOs use the U.S. Legal System.  They also met with the USEPA in San Francisco to discuss specific environmental cases brought by the regional office.

The participants learned, among other things, some of the tools and techniques American judges employ for resolving differences in expert witness evidence and how they tailor court orders, including both deterrent and remedial measures, to address specific environmental violations and harm in each case.  Throughout the program, participants discussed developing innovative ways to apply their learnings in the Chinese context.  One of the NJC instructors stayed in the U.S. for another two months to develop an environmental adjudication curriculum that would be used for training judges at the NJC and in other judicial training programs.