China Smog Downtown Harbin
Pedestrians walk as smog partially obscures a view of downtown Harbin, in Heilongjiang province, China.Reuters

China is likely to pass a new law that will give priority to the environment over development, according to Reuters.

The new environmental law may even keep away industries from protected zones.

Amendments to China's 1989 Environmental Protection Law are to be decided this year, and the specifics of a fourth draft are being debated.

China depends greatly on taxes from industries at heavy cost to the environment.

If a pro-environment law is passed, the central Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) will have a greater say in protecting the environment and bringing offenders to book.

"(Upholding) environmental protection as the fundamental principle is a huge change, and emphasises that the environment is a priority," Cao Mingde, law professor at China University who was involved in the drafting process, told Reuters.

"The environment ministry could only impose fines and management deadlines Now we can close and confiscate them. It's an important right."

Other punishments on the table include reforming the "maximum fine" clause under which factories were free to release pollutants irrespective of set limits after paying a one-time penalty.

Also, an "ecological red line" might be in the offing, which will put protected regions beyond the reach of lobbyists calling for "industrial development" of certain areas.

Cao, however, cautioned that there still might be loopholes created by vested interests in the new amendments.

While the MEP pushed for judicious implementation of the law, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) wanted the laws to operate under broad specifications leaving much room for discretion.

The most-opposed amendment relates to a clause that limits the power of NGOs from protesting or suing industries that break environmental norms.

Industries have been trying to lobby the authorities against easing the present regulations on NGOs to move courts or seek assistance from other government bodies, according to Cao.