The ACOEL “China Project” - Speaking Opportunity in Xian, China

Posted on July 30, 2015 by James Bruen

The College’s International Pro Bono “China Project” reports a very interesting speaking opportunity in Xian, China.

            1.         Speaking at the All China Lawyers’ Association Annual Training Conference

            This speaking opportunity will be for one Fellow to address the All-China Lawyers Association’s annual training session. ACLA is the official professional association for lawyers (the rough equivalent of the American Bar Association) of the People's Republic of China. It was founded in July 1986. All lawyers of China are members of ACLA. 

            ACLA Director Zhou Saijun reports that the national lawyer training has been scheduled on October 17 and 18, in Xian. These dates conflict with the ACOEL annual meeting in New York, but we have no ability to change the date. On the other hand, we have spoken with officers of the ACOEL and they agree that the opportunity is for just one Fellow, so overall attendance at the annual meeting will not be materially affected.  The involved Fellow would accept this opportunity with the College’s full endorsement.

ACLA Director Saijun will forward the detailed agenda for the ACLA conference when the eventually complete it. But, as usual, they hope that the

“…. ACOEL speaker could introduce general US attorney system, environmental law and regulations, as well as how lawyer can play important role in the field of environment, energy and resource law. The topics for this annual training focus on lawyer’s role on oversea investment (relevant to Chinese international development strategy called one road one belt ), on enforcement of environmental law and how lawyer can serve PPP, etc.”.

As usual, we will ask ACLA/NRDC to confirm that they will reimburse the speaker for round trip coach airfare and other reasonable travel expenses. We imagine that the speaker may wish to extend his/her trip a day or more to see Xian’s famous terracotta warriors.

2.        To Be Considered for the Opportunity

If you wish to be considered for this opportunity, please promptly send Jim Bruen (jbruen@fbm.com) a copy of your current curriculum vita. Jim will also answer any questions. He will send all vitae received on or before 5:00 pm PST August 12  to ACLA/NRDC so that they may promptly select the Fellow who they feel best meets their needs as speaker. The selected Fellow will then contact Wu Qi and Grace Gao of NRDC/Beijing to coordinate travel and other arrangements.

Don’t miss this fascinating opportunity. 

Report from the ACOEL International Pro Bono Program

Posted on July 1, 2015 by James Bruen

            There are exciting developments in the College’s pro bono projects for Cuba, China and East Africa. This is our updated report.

            1.         Cuba

            With permission of the Executive Committee, the College has applied for a license to work in Cuba from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”). OFAC has replied by assigning the College a case number (an important development since we now have access to a Treasury Department case officer to help us) and noting that the College’s potential activities might (or might not) qualify for one of the 12 exceptions to the requirement for an OFAC license. We can either take our chances by proceeding with work and keeping careful records of our activities while awaiting a potential audit or apply for a specific opinion or license for a specifically described project. The pro bono program will work further with the Executive Committee to determine the nature and timing of our potential work in Cuba, but we regard this as a very promising path forward for the program.

            2.         China

            Notwithstanding the May 26 press coverage of the proposed new Chinese legislation declaring that Western non-profits are no longer welcome in China (describing them as “potential enemies of the state”[1]), our program continues to go forward with opportunities to work there. Zhou Saijun, the Director of Environment and Energy Committee under All China Lawyers Association has confirmed that ACLA will continue to cooperate with ACOEL and NRDC for its annual lawyer training. This event will take place in Xian in September 2015. There will be an opportunity for a College Fellow to speak at the training session. We will know shortly the proposed date and topic for the speech. As usual, we will ask those interested to submit their curricula vitae to me for transmission to the ACLA. They will select the Fellow they feel is most suited to their needs.

            Xian, as you may well know, is the site of the famous, and once-buried, terracotta warriors and their terracotta horses. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.

            3.         East Africa

            Coordinating the legal and political clients for work in East Africa has been challenging. But within the month, I hope to circulate a survey to solicit expressions of interest for work on  East African environmental issues. I will do what I can to get our African contacts to pick up the pace.

            In the interim, please call me at 415.954.4430 if you desire further information.

 


[1] See May 26, 2015 Wall Street Journal article by Andrew Browne which states in part, ”There have always been challenges in dispensing humanitarian services across such a vast country—everything from HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to environmental cleanups and care for orphans. Regulations are so onerous that it is virtually impossible for many civic groups to operate legally. Still, thousands persist, often counting on sympathetic local police and officials to turn a blind eye to infractions. But that kind of indulgence may soon be ending. A Chinese draft law treats the entire sector of foreign nonprofits as potential enemies of the state, placing them under the management of the Ministry of Public Security. ***”

Observations on China’s New Environmental Protection Law

Posted on September 12, 2014 by Robert Falk

On January 1, 2015, China will formally begin implementing an updated Environmental Protection Law. The updated Law imposes significantly stricter environmental controls and greater responsibilities on corporations and local government officials while also giving China’s environmental regulators, prosecutors, and non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) more “teeth” to demand accountability and obtain compliance.  

Key Aspects of China’s New Law   

1. Increased accountability of polluters

Any violations may be made public and could damage a company’s reputation domestically and abroad.  Individuals who were directly in charge of a polluting activity and/or other personnel who failed to abide by the updated Law’s more stringent environmental requirements will not be able to hide behind corporate walls.  Fines will accrue on a daily basis and responsible officials will be subject to jail sentences.  Companies will be required to publicly disclose their environmental impact assessment (EIA) documents and solicit public opinion on new projects to a much greater extent than previously required.

2. Increased accountability of government bodies /officials

While enterprises that did not comply with environmental regulations were previously subject to penalties, these were often overlooked, reduced, or waived due to local corruption.  To deter lax enforcement, government officials will now be subject to more serious consequences (such as demotions, dismissals, and criminal prosecution) for committing unlawful acts, including improperly granting permits and approving EIA documents, covering up violations, and failing to issue orders to suspend operations for polluters.  (Whereas opportunities to advance in the governmental hierarchy used to depend on meeting economic targets, performance evaluations will soon also take achieving environmental protection targets into account.)

3. Increased public disclosure

The new Law requires public disclosure of information regarding environmental monitoring, environmental quality, and the collection and use of pollutant discharge fees.  Designated types of heavy polluters will also be required to disclose the names, concentrations, and quantity of emissions of the main pollutants discharged, and information on the construction and operation of their pollution prevention and control facilities.  

4. Public interest lawsuits

The new Law allows NGOs to file lawsuits against polluters as long as the NGO is: 1) registered with the civil affairs department at or above municipal level, and 2) focused on environment-related public interest activities for five consecutive years or more.  It has been estimated that there are currently 300 NGOs in China that could meet these requirements.  

5. Protection for whistleblowers

The updated Law will protect any citizen or organization that reports:  (1) environmental pollution or ecological damage caused by any company, or (2) any failure by an environmental regulatory body to perform its legal duties.  Any such report and the identity of the whistleblower must be kept confidential. 

Implications

The fundamental message the updated Law sends to corporations and regulatory bodies is clear – China is now serious about improving environmental quality and will measure its success in curtailing pollution in tandem with its success in fostering economic development.  Keeping companies in key industries accountable for meeting higher environmental standards is, in fact, no longer just official verbiage, but an important strategic component of China’s overall economic strategy. 

In addition to prioritizing compliance, local companies and multinationals can align themselves with the Chinese government’s message by investing in the growing environmental technology sector in China and by promoting corporate environmental awareness and accomplishments to the Chinese public and international audiences via websites and CSR reports.  (In fact, multinationals are expected to lead the way in establishing transparency as a norm in China given their know-how and experience when operating in stricter jurisdictions.)

The updated Law constitutes a meaningful and strategic step toward improving China’s environment. While we cannot be sure how successful any particular aspect of the new Law’s implementation will be, companies are advised not to just take a “wait and see” approach.  A passive strategy risks making the company the target of enforcement actions and potentially significant penalties, and, perhaps most significantly in the longer term, damaging the reputation of the company both in and outside of China.  Instead, the economically and socially sound decision is to adjust corporate strategy in the nearer term to match that of the national Chinese government, and, perhaps, to aim to not only meet, but exceed, the environmental standards and requirements being put into place.  If companies seize the window of opportunity to distinguish themselves from other firms in China in the near term, the potential positive payoffs are likely to be significant in the longer run.

 

*Jasmine Wee a law student at the University of Hong Kong assisted Mr. Falk with a longer article on China’s new Environmental Protection Law from which these observations were derived.

ACOEL’s China Project

Posted on August 1, 2014 by James Bruen

The China Project continues to provide opportunities for Fellows of the College to work on pro bono environmental law projects sponsored by non-governmental organizations and law faculties in China. Attorneys who have participated in the projects have described them as "peak experiences" and "once-in-a-career" opportunities. In the near term, the China Project has advisory and teaching projects underway. Moreover, the Project will likely offer the opportunity for one or more Fellows to train Chinese environmental lawyers in Beijing in September. Further projects are on the drawing board. Where Fellows travel to China, airfare, hotel, meals, transportation and visa expenses customarily have been reimbursed by the Chinese sponsor. Please email jbruen@fbm.com now if you would like further details of the September opportunity.

The China Project has already had a substantial impact on Chinese environmental lawyers and Chinese environmental law. Some activities have involved, or will involve, travel to Beijing, Shanghai or other destinations in China. Others can be completed from a Fellow’s home or office in the United States. During the first half of this year, as participants in the China Project:

ACOEL Fellows have consulted in person with representatives of the National People’s Congress, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the NRDC Beijing office about improving the enforcement of the country’s basic environmental laws. China’s participants in these consultations reported that they were “very productive” and that they came at a “critical moment” in the development of the National People Congress’s deliberations. The consultations were considered as among the important factors which led to amendments of the laws to enhance Chinese enforcement provisions. The amendments were later reported in the United States on National Public Radio. 

ACOEL Fellows are now preparing a comprehensive memorandum for training Chinese lawyers and scholars about the United States’ environmental impact assessment system.  

ACOEL Fellows are scheduled to train Chinese lawyers on various aspects of a broad range of United States’ environmental laws.

All of the consultations, training and analyses undertaken by Fellows during the China Project will be delivered in, or translated from, English. There is no foreign language requirement and no additional training required. The only special requirement arises where the Fellow will be traveling to China. He or she will need a Chinese visa – which should be easily obtained (even on very short notice in an emergency) by any Fellow in the College. If you need assistance on how to obtain a visa to visit China, contact me.

The China Project is a function of the College’s Policy Committee. For the future, the Committee is working on developing additional pro bono opportunities for sponsors in Central and South America, Africa, and India. Progress reports will be offered in future blogs and in reports at the Policy Committee meetings and presentations during the College’s annual conference (this year in Austin, Texas). For further information at any time – email jbruen@fbm.com or call Jim Bruen at 415.954.4430. 

Winds of Change in China’s National People’s Congress

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Robert Percival

Appalling environmental conditions that have accompanied China’s rapid growth have been described on Chinese social media as “postapocalyptic,” “terrifying,” and “beyond belief.”  During the last year, air pollution in several Chinese cities became so horrendous at times that road travel, schools, construction projects, and airports temporarily were shut down. Epidemiologists estimate that 1.2 million Chinese die prematurely each year from exposure to air pollution.  Due to widespread water pollution, tap water is not safe to drink, even in luxury hotels.  Pollution is estimated to cost the Chinese economy more than 3.5% of gross domestic product annually. 

Rising public demand to clean up the environment has caught the attention of China’s Communist Party leadership.  In an address at the opening of the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) last month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared “war on pollution.” Chinese authorities agree that enforcement is the number one problem with their environmental laws. Bie Tao, Deputy Director General of Policies and Regulations of MEP, cited estimates that half of all regulated facilities in China violate the law and that pollution in China would be 70% less than it currently is if polluters were in full compliance with the law. 

Problems with enforcement of China’s environmental laws run deep.   China’s regulatory system is highly decentralized with the nation’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) less than a fiftieth the size of the U.S. EPA for a country with more than three times as many people than the U.S.   Enforcement problems are compounded by local corruption, small penalties for violations, the lack of an independent judiciary and the absence of a long tradition of respect for the rule of law.

As Chinese authorities struggle to increase the enforceability of their environmental laws, two ACOEL members were given an unusual opportunity last month to peak into a window on the NPC’s legislative processes.  On March 19, James A. Holtkamp and I were invited to appear before the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC’s Standing Committee in Beijing along with David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).   Billed as a “Green Dialogue,” the event was an extraordinary effort to obtain U.S. expert input to help resolve disagreements within the NPC on proposed amendments to make China’s basic Environmental Protection Law more enforceable. 

Representatives of the NPC’s Standing Committee and MEP presented us with six sets of questions concerning U.S. enforcement procedures and policies.  Many were directed at understanding how penalties for environmental violations are determined in the U.S.  A proposal to provide that maximum fines for environmental violations in China be calculated in part based on the number of days the violation has occurred was one issue that had created disagreement within the NPC.  We noted that this has become a fundamental principle of U.S. pollution control law and that it provides a powerful incentive for violators promptly to stop and correct violations.  We emphasized the importance of monitoring and reporting requirements in environmental permits.  We also suggested that China should consider adopting a policy that enforcement actions should recoup at least the economic benefit of the violation to ensure that companies do not profit from their violations.  This has been EPA’s long-standing policy and there appears to be some interest in adopting such a policy in China.

Chinese authorities are moving toward requiring greater transparency from polluters.  Beginning on January 1, 2014, they mandated that China’s 15,000 largest companies provide the public with continuous data concerning their air and water emissions, something that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. By opening up a “Green Dialogue” on U.S. enforcement practices, China’s legislators are exhibiting a healthy appetite for entertaining new ideas to improve the effectiveness of their environmental laws.  Our U.S. expert panel consisting of an industry practitioner, a public interest lawyer, and an academic apparently proved to be a persuasive coalition for we have learned that many of our recommendations are being incorporated into the new draft of China’s basic Environmental Law.