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The recent turnaround in the Environment Ministry’s position on the construction of new coal-fired thermal power plants, which it had earlier opposed out of concern that more of such plants would undermine Japan’s goal of cutting its emissions of global warming gases, seems yet another indication that near-term cost factors prevail in the nation’s energy policy. The power industry’s rush to coal — which is cheaper than natural gas but emits roughly double the amount of carbon dioxide when burned as fuel in power plants — and the government’s support come in sharp contrast with the moves in other advanced economies to cut back on its use.

The Environment Ministry is reported to have reversed its objections after the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry promised to beef up its supervision of the power industry’s voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government must not leave the efforts in the hands of the industry. It should take effective steps to ensure that emissions from the power sector, which account for 40 percent of Japan’s total, are steadily reduced.

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