The China Quarterly


Agency Empowerment through the Administrative Litigation Law: Court Enforcement of Pollution Levies in Hubei Province*

Xuehua Zhang, Leonard Ortolano and Zhongmei Lü


The existing literature on China's 1989 Administrative Litigation Law (ALL) has rarely discussed a minor provision that permits administrative agencies to enlist court assistance in enforcing administrative decisions. Focusing on court enforcement of pollution levies, this study examines how and why ALL has been employed so extensively by administrative agencies, environmental protection bureaus (EPBs) in this context. The study is based on interviews with judges, EPB officials and polluters involved in court actions as well as court statistical data from 1992 to 2005 for Hubei province. EPBs' heavy reliance on court enforcement for collecting pollution levies and fines resulted from incentives that encouraged the formation of mutually beneficial relationships between courts and EPBs in the 1990s. Court involvement has enhanced EPBs' enforcement powers, but the courts' engagement in enforcement has neither curtailed EPBs' arbitrary exercise of discretionary power nor induced polluters to reduce waste discharges.

Xuehua Zhang is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. She received her PhD from Stanford's Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER) with a focus on environmental law, institutions and economics. Xuehua Zhang has done extensive research on Chinese environmental law and policy formulation, as well as enforcement and compliance with environmental requirements. Her recent research has examined the role of Chinese courts and citizens in local environmental enforcement and compliance.

Leonard Ortolano is UPS Foundation professor of civil engineering at Stanford University. He is a specialist in environmental and water resources planning, with a focus on the implementation of environmental policies and programmes in the United States and several other countries, including China. He and his students have engaged in research activities related to a variety of environmental issues in China for over two decades.

Zhongmei Lü is law professor and president of Hubei University of Economics at Wuhan, China. Before that, she was vice-president of the Hubei Provincial Court. Lü has written extensively on environmental rights, environmental public litigation, and environmental dispute resolutions. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including election as one of China's ten “Outstanding Young Jurists” in 2002. She is currently principle investigator of a national key research project on China's environmental dispute resolution mechanisms.


* The data collection involved in this work was made possible with substantial assistance from the Environmental and Resources Law Institute of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. We thank the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER), Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and the UPS Foundation for their financial support. We also thank Yuen Yuen Ang, Mei Ying Gechlik and Kevin Hsu for making very helpful comments on drafts of this paper. Any errors remain exclusively ours.