China to force polluters to pay compensation following renewed blasts of toxic air

BEIJING, China – China will tighten environmental legislation and force polluters to pay compensation following renewed blasts of toxic air, the country’s top legislator said Sunday.

Zhang Dejiang said in a report to the ceremonial legislature’s annual session that businesses were responsible for the environmental damage they caused and must be held to account. He said legal revisions were being prepared, but offered no specifics.

Changes are also needed to strictly supervise emissions and control pollution at the source, Zhang said.

January saw air pollution density readings of PM 2.5 particles exceeding 500 micrograms per cubic meter, about 20 times as high as considered safe by the World Health Organization.

Heavy pollution has lingered over much of northern China through February and March, leading to increased hospitalizations for heart and breathing problems, and forcing schools to cancel outdoor events. Heavy smog has also been blamed for disrupting air transport and retarding the growth of crops by blocking out the sun.

China has repeatedly emphasized the need to control pollution, but has been reluctant to enforce even those paltry measures already announced, largely out of a fear of social disruption and increasing the burden on an already slowing economy.

Zhang’s 90-minute speech to the National People’s Congress is his only national address and is usually scrutinized for any sign of changes to China’s one-party Marxist-Leninist political system — something past leaders have ruled out entirely.

This year’s address offered routine support for the current system, under which the entire nearly 3,000 member parliament meets for only a few days per year, with virtually all legislative business handled by its roughly 175-member standing committee.

“Through practice, we have fully verified that the system of people’s congresses is the fundamental political system that conforms to China’s national conditions,” Zhang said.