China prosecutors win landmark lawsuit against environmental department

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese prosecutors have successfully sued a county environmental agency for inadequately punishing a sewage firm that produced dye without appropriate safeguards, the first-such public interest case against a government department.

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s top prosecutor, said on Monday prosecutors had successfully proved that the environmental protection department in eastern Shandong province had committed “illegal acts” in its dealings with the Qingshun Chemical Technology Company.

The case was filed last December in the Qingyun County court, with such departments coming under increasing scrutiny amid growing public discontent over pollution.

In 2014, the sewage firm was found to have produced dye without adequate safeguards but the environmental protection bureau in the county imposed only nominal administrative punishments and allowed the company to start trial operations, the court said.

The case was described by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate at the time as China’s first “administrative public interest litigation case” after the National People’s Congress had earlier authorized prosecutors to file such lawsuits in a pilot programme.

Last year, China’s Supreme Court said it would give environmental groups the power to sue before any pollution had occurred if they could show that a particular activity could threaten the public interest.

The Chinese government has declared war on pollution, vowing to abandon a decades-old growth-at-all-costs economic model that has spoiled much of China’s water, skies and soil, in response to public anger over such environmental problems.

Reporting by Brenda Goh