Lower House approves environmental impact bill

The Lower House approved a bill May 6 to create Japan’s first law to assess the environmental impact of construction projects.

Based on a draft recommendation submitted Feb. 10 to Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto by the Central Environment Council, the bill will be sent to the Upper House for further deliberation before final approval during the current Diet session. If the bill is passed, current environmental assessment rules, which were adopted in 1984 as informal administrative rules, will be made tougher and legally binding.

The bill would require mandatory environmental assessment for construction works falling under a first category of 13 types of large-scale projects, including dams, railways and airports, while smaller projects in a second category would be individually examined to see whether environmental assessment is required.

Although the bill includes power plants — recently a controversial issue — in the first category, special provisions have been added to reflect concerns from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which oversees the energy industry. At present, developers are only encouraged to meet nonbinding environmental standards before obtaining the official go-ahead for their projects.

Japan is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that does not have an environmental assessment law at the national level.