YINCHUAN – A high-profile public interest litigation case about pollution in China’s Tengger Desert was settled by mediation on Monday, with the polluters agreeing to provide an environmental fund. 

Following mediation by Zhongwei Intermediate People’s Court in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, eight polluting firms sued by an environmental group agreed to make public apologies and provide a fund of 6 million yuan (900,000 U.S. dollars) to protect the environment. 

The court found that the eight Ningxia-based companies dumped unprocessed waste in the Tengger Desert, polluting nearby soil. 

The polluters started overhauls and began restoring the affected environment, at a total cost of 569 million yuan, after their acts were exposed by environmental watchdogs in February 2015. Their work has been checked and accepted by environmental authorities. 

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation lodged a public interest litigation case against the polluters in August 2015 but the Zhongwei court refused to hear the case. 

The foundation appealed the decision to the Higher People’s Court of Ningxia and was rejected. 

In early 2016, the Supreme People’s Court ruled that the Zhongwei court should take the case. The court’s conciliation statement said the foundation’s goals to require the firms to stop pollution, eliminate pollution risks, invite qualified conservators and pass official assessment have been achieved. 

Three of the companies should continue to restore affected groundwater, according to the statement. 

China’s environmental protection law, revised in 2014, introduced public interest litigation and expanded the definition of who can be the plaintiff in these cases.