Today I participated in the Workshop on Public Interest Litigation on Water Pollution held at the Maritime Court in Guangzhou. The Workshop was sponsored by the Marine Transportation Law Professional Committee of the China Maritime Law Association, Sun Yat-sen University School of Law, Vermont Law School, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In addition to well-respected Chinese professor and judges, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice also attended.
It was an interesting workshop. The interesting discussions were ones that dealt with the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice to bring environmental enforcement actions, the role of citizen litigation (through statutory citizen suit provisions), and what factors trigger environmental compliance in the U.S.
It’s clear that the U.S. has a highly complex environmental law regime, that is very hard to explain to our Chinese counterparts. However, this difficulty does not stem from complexities about environmental law, but instead basic Rule of Law norms in the U.S. and acceptance of citizen participation/activism even when at odds with governmental decisions.