This past July, U.S.-Asia Partnership for Environmental Law (PEL) welcomed a delegation of experts to receive training on the basic U.S. legal systems and practice for natural resource damage compensation and restoration. Since 2014, when the Environmental Protection Law was amended to permit certain civil society organizations (CSOs) to sue polluters for compensation of damages to the environment on behalf of the public interest, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (then the Ministry of Environmental Protection) and the judiciary have been working to develop legal mechanisms to determine what constitutes damages to natural resources and how to assess and compensate for such. With support from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), China’s Academy for Environmental Planning (CAEP) led the delegation, which included staff members from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), local Environmental Protection Bureaus, and leading environmental advocates and CSO leaders, on this two-week training.
As a social organization affiliated with the MEE, CAEP provides technical support and services such as environmental planning and policy consultation; conducts research and international cooperation projects on environmental planning and policy development; and serves as a leading think tank for MEE. The CAEP is the key driver for reform- ing China’s damaged compensation system and implementing pilots, and has compiled guiding documents for the technical aspects of damage assessment including “Several Opinions on the Implementation of Environmental Damage Assessment” (No. 60 <2011>, issued by Ministry of Environmental Protection) and “Recommended Methods of Calculating Losses of Environmental Pollution Incidents.” CAEP and MEE staff will continue to play a key role in developing rules and procedures for how licensed assessment agencies must produce damage assessment reports for judicial review and so this particular delegation was interested in case-study examples of U.S. approaches to natural resources damage determination, remediation, and cleanup of pollution.
During the rst week of training, NRDC and EDF hosted the delegation in New York City. PEL helped organize a number of meetings for the delegation. They met with the Water Keeper Alliance, the Hudson River Keepers, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other natural resource damage litigation professionals. They heard case studies on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, and the Restoration of Onondaga Lake, both focusing on the law and practice of how to enforce the law to bring about remediation and restoration.
During the second week, PEL hosted the delegation in Vermont. On their rst day at VLS, they met with Professor Mark Latham for an in-depth presentation on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which addresses the cleanup of contaminated sites. This deep dive into the mechanics of CERCLA continued over the second day of lecture when VLS Dean Thomas McHenry provided an introduction to the history of the Elizabeth Mine Site, an abandoned copper mine in Strafford, Vermont, which has undergone restoration under CERCLA. The delegation then joined the dean on a site tour to the Elizabeth Mine hosted by Ed Hathaway of the EPA. On the site visit, they were able to handle copper ore pieces and observe how the site was leased to produce solar power while still preserving the protective layer preventing further contamination to the surrounding environment. On their third day of study in Vermont, the group heard from staff from Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources on their conservation efforts, including wetlands restoration projects and funding sources supporting such projects. In the morning, they heard from staff scientist Julie Follensbee and Clean Water Initiative Director Kari Dolan, and in the afternoon they visited a wetland site to learn how it was restored through conversion of agricultural land. To close up their visit, over the final two days the group explored two case studies in natural resource damages (NRD) and shoreline restoration and had an opportunity to visit the Pine Street Barge Canal superfund site in Burlington, Vt.
In all, the tour was packed with content and hands on site visits that brought case-studies to life for the delegation. Members left with an appreciation for the lessons learned and new ideas about potential reforms to China’s NRD practices and legal framework.