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Japan, U.S. agree on new base environment accord

Kyodo

The Japanese and U.S. governments said Monday they have reached “substantial agreement” on a new accord that allows local Japanese officials to enter U.S. military bases to conduct environmental surveys of land expected to be returned to Japanese control.

The accord was proposed as a way to facilitate the contentious plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma elsewhere in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

But the outline of the new pact announced Monday does not offer details on the extent to which Japan will be ensured the right of access to U.S. facilities, leaving open the question of whether the pact will be effective in preventing contamination, including on land expected to be returned to Japanese control.

According to a joint press release, the new pact, called the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Stewardship Relating to the U.S. Armed Forces in Japan, will “supplement” the existing Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the use of U.S. military bases in Japan.

The new agreement will address the establishment and maintenance of procedures for Japanese authorities to have appropriate access to U.S. facilities and areas in two cases — when an environmental or spill incident occurs and when field surveys are needed, including cultural assets surveys, for the return of land to Japanese control.

The Japanese government will “furnish environmentally friendly facilities to U.S. forces and provide funds to pay for the costs of a variety of environmentally friendly projects and activities,” according to the agreement.

SOFA has no clause allowing municipalities to conduct environmental surveys on the bases, requiring prefectural and municipal officials to obtain U.S. permission to enter the facilities.

Under the accord, environmental protection is also not compulsory for the U.S. military.

Wary of possible pollution, Okinawa and other prefectures hosting U.S. military bases have called for the inclusion of an environmental protection clause in the bilateral agreement to allow local authorities to conduct environmental surveys on bases.

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