Jeffrey B. Gracer Serves as Instructor for Environmental Law Workshop in Tianjin, China.

SPR Principal Jeffrey B. Gracer recently served as an instructor at an environmental law workshop at Tianjin University School of Law in Tianjin, China. The three-day workshop in January was jointly organized by the China Environmental Protection Foundation (“CPEF”), the Environmental Law Institute (“ELI”), and Tianjin University School of Law, and is part of a program for which ELI has received approvals from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Beijing Bureau of Public Security. The aim of the workshop and overall program is to build the capacity of Chinese NGOs to effectively participate in environmental public interest litigations.

Amendments to the Chinese Environmental Protection Law (“EPL”) in 2015 enabled certain “social organizations” to initiate public interest litigation against polluters on behalf of the public. The revised law allows for greater accountability for regulators and business, and empowers the judiciary with a greater ability to impose penalties and issue enforcement orders. Since the EPL revisions came into effect, numerous lawsuits have been filed, with some initial successes as well as many challenges.
Among the 53 workshop participants were NGO staffers, environmental judges, prosecutors, private practice attorneys, and environmental compliance personnel from 16 provinces, autonomous regions, and province-level municipalities in China.

Jeff, joined by ELI’s Vice President for Programs and Publications John Pendergrass, presented on the comparative experience from the U.S. Workshop participants took great interest in Sive, Paget & Riesel’s rich history as a firm that helped to pioneer the development of environmental law, and in hearing about the struggles faced by environmental litigants to gain acceptance by judges and businesses. Participants also explored the diverse legal models in public interest law in the U.S., translating the U.S. experience for the Chinese legal system, and exploring the opportunities and catalyzing roles for NGOs, courts, and multinational companies in spurring greater levels of environmental protection.
The workshop also featured four distinguished speakers currently working in China: Gao Shaolin, Director of the Legislative Affairs Committee, Tianjin Municipal People’s Congress, Sun Youhai, Dean of Tianjin University School of Law and former Senior Judge at Supreme People’s Court, Justice Du Wanhua, Supreme People’s Court, and Zhao Ke, Deputy Director General, Department of Policies and Laws, Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Jeff looks forward to continued engagement in the capacity building program, explaining, “Right now, there is broad consensus that environmental compliance and improvement is a high priority. Through citizen suit legislation, the government has provided certain non-governmental organizations a legal avenue to seek court enforcement of environmental law. There is a tremendous opportunity for these organizations to make a difference, and also for businesses to work with environmental organizations toward a common greater goal by creating a robust culture of compliance.”

Capacity building workshop participants, courtesy of ELI.

Jeff receiving an honorary faculty appointment from Tianjin University School of Law from Sun Youhai, Dean of the Law School, courtesy of ELI.


Jeff, with John Pendergrass, presenting on the comparative experience in the U.S., courtesy of ELI.

The skyline in Beijing, courtesy of Jeff Gracer.

A view of the Forbidden City, courtesy of Jeff Gracer.