The Environment Agency and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry are at odds on how to handle junked automobile air conditioners and the ozone-depleting greenhouse gases they contain, sources said.

Both government organs agree there are limits on what voluntary industry and municipal measures can achieve. They also recognize the need for a new law requiring that discarded air conditioners be collected.

However, the issue of when these policies should become reality remains a point of contention.

While MITI advocates making the collection of air conditioners and their coolants mandatory in 2003 — coinciding with the establishment of a system to promote recycling of automobiles — the agency and Liberal Democratic Party are aiming for a date in 2001, officials said.

With the retrieval of refrigerant gases costing some 4,000 yen per vehicle, the question of who will foot the bill to collect and dispose of the gases is, in itself, a complicated issue.

Since the early 1990s, the United States and Germany have passed legislation banning the release of fluorocarbons and making collection of the units mandatory. Japan, on the other hand, has allowed the national automobile manufacturers’ association to take voluntary measures. In 1999, collection rates had stalled at a meager 18 percent.

The Environment Agency is pressing for the prompt enactment of legislation, arguing that if collection is put off for another three years, the majority of fluorocarbons will already have been released into the atmosphere, making the act meaningless and inviting international criticism.

The LDP’s environmental policy committee is also calling for progress on the issue and has said that it hopes to draw up legislation requiring the collection and disposal of ozone-depleting gases from automobiles, vending machines and air conditioners during the current extraordinary Diet session.

The party has said it hopes the legislation will encourage manufacturers to pay for collection and disposal of the gases, with charges based on the amount of gas collected.

A citizens’ network committed to banning and collecting ozone-depleting gases penned and submitted a proposal to political parties in September. The plan advocates the establishment of a collection system and banning the release of the chemicals.

It also calls for producers of fluorocarbons and d makers of components that use it to set up a fund to pay for disposal of the gas. The LDP and New Komeito have expressed interest in this concept, officials said.

The Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito are working to draw up drafts to submit to the Diet session that begins next January.

MITI has countered that, rather than focusing exclusively on creating a system that rewards companies who gather and dispose of the refrigerants, a system that encourages full-fledged recycling of automobiles should be created.

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