Enforcing Environmental Regulations in China: Role of Citizens, Courts, and Agencies

@ATREE auditorium at 3.45 pm on 21st September, 2015

Abstract: The promulgation of the Administrative Litigation Law (ALL) in 1989 was widely regarded as the milestone in the development of rule of law in China. The primary objective of the ALL is to empower ordinary citizens to challenge regulatory decisions in courts. A minor clause in the ALL allows administrative agencies to sue regulated parties for non-compliance with administrative decisions. A key paradox found in this study is that agencies, environmental protection bureaus (EPBs) in this context, deployed the ALL far more extensively than citizens, even though the original intent of the ALL was to empower citizens over agencies. This was largely driven by a set of incentives faced by the courts and EPBs. As the incentives removed, the number of court cases filed by EPBs declined. Despite the small number of court cases filed by citizens, the cases demonstrated the long-term potential of placing administrative enforcement behaviour under the supervision of courts and citizens and for enhancing the sensitivity of EPBs to aspects of the rule of law. The findings of this study have important theoretical implications for the field of regulation, enforcement, and legal institutions.

Short Bio: Xuehua Zhang is Professor of Environmental Policy at the Institute of New Energy and Low Carbon Technology, Sichuan University of China. Her area of research interests is environmental policy-making, enforcement and compliance, coordinated pollution control, low carbon rural development, public participation and environmental legal institutions. She received her PhD from Emmet Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University with a focus on environmental law, institutions, and economics. Before that, she was a policy analyst at Resources for the Future, a prominent environmental economics think-tank in Washington DC. She has contributed to the international policy community and its understanding about the actual functions and operations of China’s environmental regulatory system, mostly through providing consulting services to governments and international organizations such as World Bank, UNEP, Energy Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Council, Ministry of Environmental Protection of China, and Climate Policy Initiative in San Francisco. Currently she is leading an effort of establishing a project that incorporates industrial and agricultural pollution control and ecological farming to explore innovative approaches for protecting the drinking water sources area in Chengdu, China. The project will also examine the environmental and social impacts of the ongoing large-scale urbanization on China’s peri-urban and rural areas.