Group angry over state inaction

Promise to curb air pollution unkept: Hyogo residents

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. — A residents’ group here said Friday it plans to file a complaint next week with a home affairs ministry panel on pollution issues, claiming the government has failed to carry out the provisions in a settlement reached in December 2000 on reducing vehicle emissions.

The members said they will file the complaint Tuesday.

The group comprises 21 residents who were plaintiffs in a 12-year lawsuit against the government and expressway operator Hanshin Expressway Corp. The parties reached an out-of-court settlement in the case, which at the time was being heard in the Osaka High Court.

It would be the first time for former plaintiffs to ask the panel to mediate a dispute after a settlement has been reached.

“We are not demanding something difficult,” said group leader Mitsuko Matsu, who also serves as a director of the Japan Air Pollution Victims Association. “We just want the government to abide by the settlement and reduce air pollution by curbing the number of large vehicles, which are the source of emitting harmful substances.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the government and Hanshin Expressway Corp. agreed to take specific measures to monitor air pollution and restrict traffic volume in the area along National Route 43 and the Kobe section of the elevated Hanshin Expressway, which runs above it.

In January 2000, almost a year before the settlement was reached, the Kobe District Court ordered the government and Hanshin Expressway Corp. to reduce air pollution and pay 210 million yen in compensation to 50 of the plaintiffs.

“(The high court settlement) is significant as it spells out steps for national authorities to cut emissions, but nothing has changed so far — many vehicles are still running and the local residents are still suffering from air pollution,” Matsu said. “We feel that we have been betrayed by the government.”

A council has been formed to mediate between the residents and a regional office of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry. Three meetings have been held.

But according to the plaintiffs’ group, the attending officials were insincere and argued that limiting the number of large vehicles falls under the jurisdiction of Hyogo Prefectural Police. The government has no authority in regulating traffic, the officials apparently told the group.

Lawyer Hideo Nakao, who also attended Friday’s news conference, said the group may file a new lawsuit seeking traffic regulations on large vehicles if the dispute cannot be resolved through the pollution-mediation panel.

“We hope that the government will carry out measures (on restricting traffic) through the panel,” Nakao said, “but if this fails, we may file a new lawsuit.”