Citizen lobbying and government dithering is moving the nation closer to realizing a scheme to promote the retrieval of ozone-depleting and greenhouse gases.
Debate on the issue hit the home stretch Friday when the ruling coalition approved a draft bill to mandate the collection of three types of chlorofluorocarbons used in commercial refrigerants and automobile air conditioners.
The nongovernmental organization Furon Net, led by veteran activist Takako Momoi, is one group that will heave a sigh of relief should the bill be passed during the current Diet session.
Momoi, who was an observer and adviser to the initial Liberal Democratic Party study group on CFC regulations, gives the coalition’s proposed legislation passing marks — but only just.
“The draft doesn’t include regulations for chlorofluorocarbon production, leakage prevention or a deposit system, nor does it apply to all appliances using chlorofluorocarbons — as in our proposal (submitted in September),” she said. “But it does mandate the collection and destruction of the gases, and that is key.”
Momoi said she is optimistic that the draft bill goes far enough to be effective. “I would give it a 65 out of 100,” she said, adding the grade is contingent on its passage by the Diet during the current session.
Establishing the law is a race against time. Products containing CFCs — the production of which was banned in 1995 — are rapidly approaching the end of their life cycles and the bulk of the gas in cars and refrigerators will either be released into the atmosphere or collected by 2005.
“We need to hurry. If they are not collected within the next two to three years, most CFCs will be released into the atmosphere,” she said.
Under the ruling parties’ proposal, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used as refrigerants in industrial cooling systems and automobile air conditioners will be subject to collection and destruction.
The proposed scheme will go into effect April 1 for commercial air conditioners, refrigerators and vending machines, and in October 2002 for automobiles. The delay is due to the complicated registration process needed to establish the collection network at the local level, coalition officials said.
But Momoi said she fears this registration process may be needlessly intricate and drawn out.
There are some 150,000 companies that will be eligible to retrieve CFCs.
“This will be very complicated,” she said, “and the question remains whether they will really be able to carry out the process smoothly.”
Registered enterprises — dealers, service shops and wrecking yards — will collect the CFCs from cooling systems. They will bill machine owners in the case of industrial refrigerants and auto manufacturers in the case of automobiles for the retrieval, transportation and destruction of the gases.
In addition, it is not clear why dealers and other shops would want to go to the trouble of removing CFCs from cars and send them to manufacturers for disposal, Momoi said.
“I can’t imagine any incentive for them to register. No matter how much CFC they collect, it is unlikely to be a money-making proposition.”
Another of Momoi’s worries is that opposition parties might still talk the proposal — which was initially delayed due to the efforts of some politicians to have the bill wait for car recycling legislation due out later this year — into oblivion.
“There are some within the Democratic Party of Japan (which has its own draft bill) who say they should push their own proposal. One concern is that this could stall the process and the bill will die,” Momoi said.
Still, pundits predict that with the House of Councilors election coming up in July, it is unlikely the DPJ will kill the bill entirely, and that it is more realistic to expect the ruling and opposition camps to strike a compromise.
Despite these lingering questions, only one will remain if the legislation is enacted.
“If and when the bill does become law, the only question will be, ‘Does it work in practice?’ ” Momoi said.
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