Editorial: Pollution from Kadena reminds us that there is no choice but to revise the SOFA

April 19, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The severity of environmental pollution from U.S. military bases in Okinawa, and the deep secrecy with which this is handled, have been illuminated once again. Okinawan citizens’ stress from the concerns connected to bearing an overlarge share of the bases makes this an even more disorderly situation. Chemical substance control within U.S. base compounds is in chaos.

Stricter compliance to U.S. base regulations and systematic implementation in terms of toxic substance control when contamination occurs should be strongly encouraged. Moreover, it is essential that the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) be revised, and the privileged status the U.S. Armed Forces receive from it be curtailed.

In an inspection of Kadena Air Base’s 500 transformers, which were suspected of leaking polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), only about half of the transformers were found to be in operation. However, even those in use were not examined for leakage and are being left to their own devices.

Furthermore, between 1998 and 2015 a total of 40,000 liters of jet fuel and other substances were leaked in multiple incidents. In a report to the Japanese government, only 23 of the 206 incidents that occurred between 2010 and 2014 were disclosed.

Even though information was withheld from the report, journalist Jon Mitchell acquired email records and other documentation under the Freedom of Information Act, and disclosed the missing information.

It is appropriate to say that U.S. bases in Okinawa are lawless areas, supportive of environmental conservation in words alone, but not in action. Were such an occurrence to take place domestically on U.S. bases, without a doubt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would take it as a serious matter, initiate an investigation, and make the problem public.

Both the U.S. and Japanese governments claim that the Japan Environmental Governing Standards (JEGS) used on U.S. military bases in Japan apply the more stringent criteria from the U.S. or Japan, and are aimed at preventing pollution. However, the current circumstances demonstrate that the JEGS are not functioning as claimed, due to the slack with which the bases are being run.

Many environmental pollution problems have piled up and persist on U.S. military bases.

First of all, Japan’s domestic laws do not apply on U.S. bases, as local governments are not allowed entrance onto a base when a contamination incident occurs. The U.S. Armed Forces are exonerated from the responsibility of restoring land to its original condition upon returning it to Japanese control. It is evident that there is a vicious cycle of the U.S. Armed Forces not working to deter pollution.

In September 2015 the governments of the U.S. and Japan concluded the Supplemental Agreement on the Environment of the SOFA. However, the agreement gives the U.S. Armed Forces the discretion to choose whether or not to comply. Under the agreement the Armed Forces are not obliged to accept a local government’s request to enter a base for inspection purposes.

In Okinawa, the military does not officially disclose records of the use of toxic substances or the reality of toxic substance oversight on the bases, which is common practice on bases in the United States.
The double standards held by U.S.-Japan that work against residents living around the bases and local governments are unpardonable. To stop this hypocrisy, there is no choice but to carry out revision of the U.S.-Japan SOFA, and to impose the duty of preventing pollution onto the U.S. Armed Forces.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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