My colleague Nick Schroeck has just published an exciting article exploring new opportunities for environmental law clinics in China. Nick directs Wayne Law's Transnational Environmental Law Clinic and is Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. In the fall of 2014, Nick traveled to Xi'an China where he taught international environmental law at the Northwest University of Politics & Law as part of a faculty exchange program. While Nick was teaching at NWUPL, China was in the process of making major changes to its Environmental Protection Law. Most notably, the 2014 revisions increase civil society’s role in environmental protection, provide a greater level of regulatory specificity, and establish a new accountability regime. Chapter V of the revised Environmental Protection Law improves the availability of environmental information and data. It guarantees rights to environmental information requested by the public, requires applicable departments to disclose the requested data, and mandates that industry disclose its emissions. The process for preparing an environmental impact statement includes public engagement and publishing the statement upon completion. The revised law further provides for fines for the failure to disclose this important information and standing for public interest environmental organizations to engage in litigation.
Seeing an opportunity in the changes to the Environmental Protection Law, Nick has authored an article detailing how and why environmental law clinics can play an increased role in shaping environmental law and policy in China to address the significant environmental and public health challenges facing their country. A Changing Environment in China: The Ripe Opportunity for Environmental Law Clinics to Increase Public Participation and to Shape Law and Policy, published at 18 Vermont Journal of Environmental Law 1 (2016), details the recent legal reforms, draws on the history of US environmental law clinics as a guide, and provides pragmatic recommendations for environmental law clinics in China. Professor Schroeck’s article concludes:
Chinese law clinics will be able to analyze data and to “watch the watchers” in government to ensure that proper enforcement takes place. Using the experiences of United States environmental law clinics as a guide, China can develop or expand clinics to help their country navigate the political and economic barriers to change. There are significant challenges in creating Chinese environmental law clinics based upon the United States model. The Chinese legal system limits the ability of citizens and public interest advocates to affect social change. Control still ultimately rests with the Communist Party, with minimal rights for citizens. Corruption is still a significant barrier. But as China continues to reform its legal system to combat the current environmental and public health emergency, the opportunity for Chinese environmental law clinics to build upon the United States model and to influence and shape future law and policy is ripe for the taking.