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对话| 环境公益诉讼为何没有出现井喷?

★本文原载于《中外对话》,作者徐楠、张春。《微思客》经授权转载,如需转载,请联系作者。

环境公益诉讼为何没有出现井喷?

徐楠 张春

新环保法实施近半年,环境民事公益诉讼没有像期待的那样爆发性增长。中国政法大学博士研究生林燕梅同时是佛蒙特法学院副教授,与中国政法大学“污染受害者法律帮助中心”合作多年,从2007年起就关注中国的环境公益诉讼。在她看来,环境公益诉讼制度的成熟,还要再等3年。

中外对话:环境民事公益诉讼没有出现大家期待的“井喷”,您怎么看?

林燕梅:不可能实现井喷。在2007年到2013年之间,试点法院(编者按:试点法院即中国自2007年起开始设立的环保法庭)只受理了不到60件环境公益诉讼。在有资格诉讼的机构比目前多得多的情况下,尚且这么少,现在只有符合法律规定的少部分环境NGO才可以提起诉讼,所以井喷的可能性不大。

据民政部的初步估算,全国符合公益诉讼资格要求的环境NGO大概有700多家,但这是估算,民政部也没有详细的名录。这700多家,我估计有超过八成是学会、产业协会、研究会等,做工业污染和生态破坏防范的环境NGO非常少。

2007年到2013年间提起过环境公益诉讼的NGO只有4家,其中中华环保联合会的案件占了90%。

为什么没有案子?主要有四个原因:

一是有意愿的NGO身边没有有经验的环境律师。做一个公益诉讼案件,对大多数NGO来说就像第一次吃螃蟹,不知道从何下手;二是不少有资格的NGO,特别是扎根地方的NGO目前还有很多顾虑,认为如果为了作秀,选择好打的案子没有意义。而如果挑硬骨头,又会面临各种压力,也不能实际解决问题,只好采取观望态度;三是不少地方的法院还没有建立环境资源审判庭,对于环境民事公益诉讼这种新的诉讼制度不了解;四是地方政府的态度。司法系统很多时候受到行政系统的干预。地方关心经济增长,如果环境民事公益诉讼对当地每一个企业都较真,GDP增长可能上不去,这是当地政府不乐意见到的。

2007-2014年间提起的环境公益诉讼,一半以上的被告已经被追诉过刑事责任。这就很说明问题。如果不是已有更大的罪在身,想要通过民事环境诉讼告倒地方政府的纳税大户,非常难。

中外对话:在您看来,中国公益诉讼处于什么样的阶段?

林燕梅:中国的环境民事公益诉讼体系,现在是处在一个有法律框架、但还没有建立起完善运作机制的阶段。

首先,环境民事公益诉讼的法律对于谁有资格提取诉讼的规定已经明确,但是对于要起诉谁,只有原则性的规定。最高院1月份出台的司法解释中也没有对“污染者”这个概念作出界定。

例如在造成土壤和地下水污染的危险废物案件中,产生危险废物的制造企业、运输者、处理方和直接投放废物的企业和个人,谁应该承担责任,承担的是清除污染、短期修复、长期修复还是自然资源损害赔偿责任,都不明确。

另外,是否超标排放污染物的企业就是“污染者”,超标多少次才算损害社会公共利益?是否可以根据“污染者”的违法成本来追诉其赔偿责任?这些问题都没有明确。

大家都看好的泰州1.6亿赔偿案,是很难复制的特例。它的原告泰州环保联合会有官方背景,似乎专为该案件而成立;江苏省最高法院院长亲自担当主审法官;而涉案企业有很多,他们选择性地诉讼了6个。自然之友追加另外3个被告,就被否决了。而且判的1.6亿赔偿的60%支付至泰州市环保公益金专用账户,这笔款项如何使用也是一个大问题。

环境诉讼,要配合许多环境行政管理和司法制度改革来做,慢慢才能变成完善的机制。这个过程,可能需要3年。3年以后,环境民事公益诉讼诉讼的案件会大量增加,NGO、律师和法院的能力会有提高,环境民事公益诉讼经过3年的磨合会成熟起来。

中外对话:环境民事公益诉讼的发展方向是什么?

林燕梅:最起码是先让人能够信任,像信息公开制度的落实那样。现在中国的信息公开制度,就形成了一个信用体系。云南也有一些案例,不少信息不申请就不公开,或者申请也不给。但是一旦申请行政复议,他们就会公开,或者最少会给一个回复。

这是因为从信息持有机构到民间,大家都默认信息公开是必须的,不公开不合理。但是,公益诉讼还没有形成这样的机制,现在亟需培养起对环境公益诉讼的信任。现在环境案件有的立不了案,有的立了案却不能顺利进入诉讼程序,或者败诉居多,这样大家就不会有多大兴趣了。

中外对话:环保法的理念来自美国,中国和美国的公益诉讼有何不同?

林燕梅:美国公益诉讼分两类——据新环保法在中国同样可以提起民事公益诉讼——一类是环境公民执法诉讼(Citizen Enforcement Suit)的案件,主要针对的是违反排污许可证或没有排污许可证排污的“污染者”提起的诉讼,也称为预防性诉讼。一年也就100来个。加上政府决策处罚的案例——政府处罚的,就不能提起诉讼了,一共也才三四百个。不过比起中国,他们的公民诉讼成本低,程序简单,证据简单,救济方式非常明确,而且有还有提前告知的前置程序,相当于执法申请。

另一种,是美国联邦环保总署或自然资源的政府托管部门——如联邦政府的内务部和各州政府——针对生态破坏或环境污染提起的民事诉讼,要求责任主体进行清理、修复和自然资源损害赔偿的责任。

与中国不同,美国的自然资源的产权非常清晰。山林和河流,要么是公有的(联邦政府或州政府所有),要么就是私有的,区域内的所有东西都是如此,所以在美国资源所有人有权提起诉讼。而在中国不同了,即便是在同一个自然保护区里,林木和河流分属不同的部门管理,地下水和地下的矿产又是其他部门管理。即使环境NGO提起了修复型的环境民事公益诉讼,怎么进行诉讼,怎么执行,目前还不明确。

徐楠,中外对话北京办公室副总编

张春,中外对话北京办公室编辑

It could take up to three years before lawsuits, taken in the public interest, start to populate Chinese courts. So thinks Lin Yanmei, an associate professor at Vermont School of Law and a doctoral student at China University of Politics and Law. Lin, who has a longstanding collaboration with CUPL’s Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, and has monitored environmental public interest litigation in China, tells chinadialogue the reasons why few public interest cases are likely to be taken soon.

chinadialogue (CD): The expected flood of environmental public interest cases hasn’t appeared. Why not?

Lin Yanmei (LYM) Bringing these cases requires that NGOs have the required capacity and expertise. Early figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs puts the number of qualified NGOs nationwide at more than 700, but that’s an estimate, not an actual list. I’d guess that over 80% of those are academic associations, industry associations, or research groups. Very few are environmental NGOs working on industrial pollution or environmental damage. Between 2007 and 2013 only four NGOs brought public interest cases, and the All-China Environment Federation accounted for 90% of them.

There are four main reasons for the lack of environmental lawsuits. Firstly, NGOs that want to bring cases don’t have experienced environmental lawyers. For most NGOs bringing a case like this for the first time is like eating a crab – you just don’t know where to start. Secondly, many qualified NGOs, particularly those with strong local roots, are still worried: fighting an easy case just to look good would be meaningless; fighting a hard one would put them under a lot of pressure and not necessarily solve anything. So they’re waiting to see what happens.

Thirdly, many local courts haven’t set up the necessary environmental and resource tribunals and aren’t familiar with the new system. Finally, the judicial system is often subject to interference by local governments, which generally prioritise economic growth. Between 2007 and 2014, more than half of the defendants in environmental public interest cases had been found guilty in criminal trials. And that’s the problem – without those prior convictions it would be next to impossible to use the civil courts to challenge a big local taxpayer.

CD: What stage do you think China’s environmental public interest litigation is at?

LYM: Currently the legal framework is there, but the necessary mechanisms aren’t yet in place.

One of the main problems isn’t just the lack of clear rules on who can bring this type of litigation, its even more uncertain who can be sued. An interpretation by the Supreme People’s Court in January didn’t deliver a definition of what a ‘polluter’ is. For example, if hazardous waste is polluting soil and water, who is responsible? The manufacturing firm which produced the waste? The company or individual that transported it, processed it, or unloaded it? Are they responsible for removing the pollution, long or short term restoration, and paying compensation? None of this is clear.

Also, are companies that breach emissions limits ‘polluters’? How many violations have to be committed before they are considered to have damaged the public interest? Can the amount of money saved by the polluting company be used to set levels of compensation? Again, there are no clear answers to these questions.

The outcome of the Taizhou case was widely hailed, as six companies last December were fined a total of 160 million yuan for polluting local rivers. But it was a special case not easily repeated. The plaintiff, Taizhou Environmental Federation, has government links and seems to have been set up specifically to bring this case; the head of the Jiangsu provincial court himself acted as the chief judge; and only six companies of many implicated were sued. Friends of Nature tried to sue another three, but were refused. And 60% of the compensation was paid into a special account at the Taizhou Environmental Welfare Fund – and there’s a big question mark over how that money will be used.

Environmental litigation mechanisms will only take shape if many administrative and judicial reforms are implemented. That process could take three years, after which the number of cases will increase, with NGOs, lawyers and the courts all more capable. So there’s going to be a three year period of working things out.

CD: How will environmental civil public interest litigation develop?

LYM: The most basic thing is to have people trust the system, like with openness of information. For example there’s a degree of faith in the transparency of what we have already. There are cases in Yunnan where information hasn’t been divulged, or applications for its release have been refused. But when administrative redress is sought it is then released, or at the least there’s a response.

This is because everyone, from the body holding the information to the public, realises that openness of information is inevitable, that it’s unreasonable not to release it. But that’s not the case with environmental litigation, and that kind of trust needs to be built up. Some cases aren’t accepted by the courts, while some are but don’t get a hearing, or do get a hearing but are unsuccessful, which de-motivates some NGOs from taking cases.

CD: The idea of laws to protect the environment came from the US. How do the US and China differ when it comes to environmental litigation?

LYM: In the US there are two types of litigation – citizen enforcement suits, which can be brought against ‘polluters’ in breach of pollution permits, or that don’t have permits, and are also known as preventative litigation. There are only 100 of these a year. And there are cases where the government hands out punishments. Once that has happened it’s no longer possible to bring a case, and there’s still only 300 or 400 of these a year.

But compared with China, bringing a case in the US is cheaper, the processes are simpler, evidence is more straightforward, and methods of redress are very clear. There are also mechanisms for giving notice of intent to sue, equivalent to an application for the law be enforced.

The other type of civil case on environmental damage or pollution is brought by Environmental Protection Agency or the body entrusted with management of natural resources – such as the Department of the Interior and state governments – requesting the responsible party clean up and restore the damage and pay compensation for damage to natural resources.

Unlike in China, in the US ownership of natural resources is very clear. Forests and rivers are either public (owned by federal or state government) or private, and that’s the case for everything, so in the US the owner of natural resources has the right to bring litigation. It’s different in China, as even within one nature reserve the rivers and forests belong to different authorities, while ownership of groundwater and mineral resources is also divided. Even if environmental NGOs request that a court orders a restoration, it’s unclear how that litigation should proceed or any punishment be enforced.

(编辑:朱小朱,Marshland版块编辑)

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