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Local government in North China sued for failing to control air pollution

Citizens are now turning to the legal system to protect their rights to clean air

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Although residents in northern China are no strangers to dirty air, a man from the smog-enshrouded Hebei province has decided to take the local environmental authority to court for failing to control air pollution.

Li Guixin, a resident in Hebei’s capital Shijiazhuang City, sued the municipal environmental protection bureau for 10,000 yuan to compensate for the money he had spent on an air filter and indoor treadmill. The local court will decide whether to accept the case by this Friday.

Dai Renhui, a lawyer from the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims at China University of Political Science and Law, said the case was not very likely to be accepted by the court even though it met the requirements for bringing charges. “Even if the court does accept the case, it will be very difficult for it to rule,” he told chinadialogue.

The significance, however, should not be overlooked as it shows how citizens are turning to the law to protect their rights, Dai added.

According to the plaintiff’s interview with a local newspaper, the lawsuit is about making a point rather than seeking economic compensation from the authority.

“I want every citizen to see that we the public are the victims of smogs. Our health is threatened by smog, and our finance affected. Our loss should be reimbursed by the authorities as they benefit from the taxation collected from the polluting companies,” Li said.

Li also felt that every household should be provided with face masks and air filters, and the cost should be shared by the authorities and polluting companies.

Responding
to the lawsuit news, the local environmental authority said the air quality of the city had been improving over the past year. The authority also told China News Service that Shijiazhuang had budgeted three billion yuan (US$490 million) to tackle air pollution and close down 476 heavy polluting companies in 2013.

Statistics
from the environmental ministry show that Shijiazhuang ranks among the 10 worst polluted cities in China with more than 85% of days in 2013 failing to meet national air quality standard. 

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