U.S. and Japan Tackle Environmental Problems on Military Bases

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, September 13, 2000 (ENS) - The United States and Japan have agreed to work together to prevent pollution in and around American military bases in Japan.


Futenma Air Base, located in the midst of Futenma city, is slated to be relocated (Photo courtesy Okinawa Prefecture)
The announcement comes two weeks after Japanís government began a round of talks to discuss the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

"Our common goal is to ensure the health and safety of residents in communities adjacent to facilities and areas, as well as the personnel of the U.S. armed forces in Japan and their dependents," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Japanís Foreign Affairs Minister Yohei Kono, in a joint statement released Monday.

Albright and Kono emphasize that their two governments recognize the "increasing importance of protecting the environment," including preventing pollution on land used by the U.S. military under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Photo courtesy U.S. State Department)
In cases where environmental contamination has already occurred, the U.S. "reconfirms its policy of immediately undertaking to remedy any contamination caused by U.S. armed forces in Japan that poses a known, imminent and substantial threat to human health."

Japan pledged to "take all available measures" to respond to "serious contamination" caused by sources outside U.S. bases.

The joint statement is likely to have its largest impact on the island of Okinawa, where most U.S. military bases are located. About 26,000 U.S. soldiers are based on the island.


Minister for Foreign Affairs Yohei Kono (Photo courtesy Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
U.S. military bases occupy 10 percent of Okinawaís land, and have long been targeted by local residents who say the bases produce too much noise and pollution.

In July, the major industrialized countries of the Group of Eight (G-8) met for their annual summit in Nago, a city in northern Okinawa. The site was chosen by Japanís leaders to help persuade local leaders that they should allow a controversial U.S. air base to move from Futenma - where it occupies the center of a town - to less populated Nago.

The U.S. agreed to relocate the base five years ago, after a 12 year old Okinawan girl was raped by three U.S. Marines.

But many Okinawa residents fear the relocation will cause more problems than it will solve. Environmentalists charge that soil runoff from the move will destroy coral reefs and endanger dugongs, a rare sea mammal related to the manatee.


Kadena Air Base, the largest U.S. air base in Asia (Photo courtesy Okinawa Prefecture)
At the G-8 summit, more than 25,0000 protesters formed a human chain around the Kadena air base in central Okinawa, the largest U.S. Air Force base in Asia. The bases cause too much pollution, traffic congestion and crime, the protesters charged.

On August 28, Japanís central government began meeting with the Okinawa prefectural government and local municipalities to discuss the relocation of the Futenma base to Nago, hoping to resolve concerns over the location and scale of the new base, and means of containing potential pollution from construction.

Some local factions are arguing for an offshore base, while others think coastal lands should be "reclaimed" for the base - a process that could destroy acres of existing wetlands. The talks are expected to take months to reach a consensus.

The final plans will be subject to the Japan Environmental Governing Standards, which all U.S. military bases on the island must meet.


G8 leaders plant a memorial tree (Photos courtesy government of Japan)
In practice, the U.S. says it sets environmental and safety standards on its Japan bases by selecting the most protective standards from the relevant U.S. and Japanese laws and regulations.

As a result, the environmental standards of U.S. armed forces facilities in Japan generally meet or exceed those set by relevant laws and regulations of Japan, the two countries said Monday.

The U.S. and Japan have now agreed to jointly review and update the Japan Environmental Governing Standards every two years, with a goal of ensuring that these standards are as protective as possible of the environment and human health.

Both countries say they will exchange information on environmental issues that could affect the health of Japanese citizens and U.S. armed forces in Japan. This process will include joint environmental surveys and monitoring of U.S. bases and the surrounding communities, and providing Japanese teams with "appropriate access" to U.S. occupied facilities in Japan.

The U.S. and Japan said they may establish joint working groups to discuss specific environmental issues as necessary.