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Environmental Law Enforcement and the Restoration of Contaminated Sites in Japan

April 2003

Citation: ELR 10290

Author: Yasushi Tsuchiya

Like other developed countries, Japan faces a serious soil contamination problem. Much of Japan's legal history, however, has failed to address the serious issue of soil contamination because Japanese environmental law focuses on human compensatory damages, injunctive relief, and environmental regulations to prevent further pollution. Unlike flow pollution,1 which can be lessened when the source of that pollution is regulated, the damage from soil contamination is accumulative and infringes upon the human environment unless and until it is completely eliminated. In addition, most contaminated sources are created by past activities, and most of the responsible parties are out of business or have no ability to pay damages. Therefore, it is often useless to order an expensive restoration action. Due to the different nature of contamination, many deficiencies exist in the law and governmental structure. Soil contamination has long been regulated through the control of air and water. In addition, as long as harm from toxic substances does not migrate to another's property, landowners cannot be ordered to take appropriate measures under Japanese law.

First, this Article briefly discusses the background and development of Japanese environmental law. Second, the Article explains the present state of soil contamination in Japan. Third, deficiencies in Japan's handling of soil contamination problems are considered. And lastly, using U.S. environmental law history as a reference, the Article suggests means to improve environmental enforcement in Japan.

Yasushi Tsuchiya is a member of the New York Bar. He currently works as an analyst in the Environmental Solution Consulting Department at Asahi & Co., an alliance member of KPMG in Japan. He received his L.L.M. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1999.

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