A few notes of follow-up on my first experiment in translation: the People’s Daily Online interview looking at the prospects for an environmental tax being included in the next Chinese 5-year plan.
- My friend and former classmate Ella Chou offered much more context on this discussion than I could have given off the top of my head. At her Harvard Law blog, she noted that anticipation of the eventual arrival of an environmental taxation regime are nothing new. Moreover, she pointed out that existing taxes include some environment-related elements. Finally, she gives us two important issues to look out for:
1. Measurement of the pollutants or environmental impact, which would be the basis for the tax, requires not only competent agents of action, be it local environmental bureau or other agencies, but also strong and vibrant citizen participation. As seen from the utilization of the current Environmental Impact Assessment Law, local environmental bureaus are extremely weak (as opposed to the local enterprises), with the exception of Beijing Environmental Bureau, and so far voluntary citizen groups have been the primary agents in provoking this law to protect their living environment. To make the environmental tax system work, China has to give environmental NGOs and private citizens more space to act as a check on the industries.
2. Revenue-neutral. In the interview Graham translated, Su Ming said the taxation would receive support among local governments because of their revenue increase. Yet it is crucial that the taxation does not increase the already immense inequality. We can all name a dozen reasons why a proposed environmental tax would affect the poor much more than the rich. But in China, because of the type of jobs those heavy industries or coal fire plants offer, it is very likely that those factories and power plants would just shift the extra tax burden onto their uneducated, short-contracted (many even without a contract) workers. So this calls for more rigorous enforcement of Labor Law and Labor Contract Law in addition to a social welfare net to ensure that the cost does not shift to the poor. Many proposals of balancing the environmental tax revenue suggest using the revenue in environmental restoration or reallocating neighborhoods around the heavy-industry factories. Either way, this should be of main concern to the policy makers.
- Related post at Change.org: I published a related post at Change.org about the prospects for China to take action on marketizing environmental costs soon, while the U.S. process may continue to lag.
- Reposted at World Policy Journal’s blog: The translation also was the first of what I hope will be many contributions to the blog at the World Policy Journal and World Policy Institute website. Thanks to the WPJ staff for their interest and assistance in re-posting, and look out for more contributions over there in the future.