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Prompt and Appropriate Settlement of Environmental Disputes

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Definition of Environmental Pollution

 The Basic Environment Act defines “environmental pollution” (“Kogai” in Japanese) as damage to human health or the living environment caused by (i) air pollution, (ii) water pollution, (iii) soil contamination, (iv) noise, (v) vibration, (vi) ground subsidence, or (vii) offensive odors, which are affecting an extensive area as a result of business or other human activities. These seven types from (i) to (vii) are called the Seven Major Types of Pollution.

 The Environmental Dispute Settlement System covers disputes on these types of environmental pollution. A dispute over low-frequency sound, for example, may be processed under this system if it is considered to be related to noise or vibration issues.
 Regarding the term “affecting an extensive area,” a case covering a specific range of areas may be subject to this system even if there is only one person who sustains damage. At the same time, an issue merely among neighbors may be excluded.

Seven Major Types of Pollution

Structure of the Environmental Dispute Settlement System

 To provide prompt and appropriate settlement of environmental disputes, the Environmental Dispute Settlement System was established, apart from judicial procedures, under the Act on the Settlement of Environmental Pollution Disputes. As organs in charge of settling environmental disputes, Prefectural Pollution Review Boards and the national organ, the Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission, have been established.
 Prefectural Boards and the Commission settle disputes independently under their respective jurisdictions but also coordinate with one another by sharing information to ensure the smooth implementation of the system.

 In addition to these organs, consultation desks for pollution complaints are set up in prefectures and municipalities in order to promptly and appropriately handle pollution complaints.

Jurisdiction Concerning Environmental Dispute Cases

Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission Prefectural Pollution Review Boards
【Conciliation, mediation, and arbitration】 【Conciliation, mediation, and arbitration】
Large-scale or serious cases:
The following cases wherein serious damage has been caused due to air pollution or water contamination and a considerable number of people have been affected or are likely to be affected by said damage
  1. 1) Cases that cause significant damage to people’s life and body
    2) Cases that cause total financial damage exceeding 500 million yen
All cases other than those within the jurisdiction of the Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission (i.e., other than large scale or serious cases, wide-area-concerned cases, and cases involving several prefectures on the left)
Wide-area-concerned cases:
Noise problems caused by aircraft or Shinkansen bullet trains
Cases involving several prefectures:
Cases wherein damage covers multiple prefectures
【Adjudication】
 All cases
* Prefectural Boards do not make adjudications.

Flow of pollution dispute processing

Flow of pollution dispute processing

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Types of the Environmental Dispute Settlement Procedures

 Most environmental dispute cases are settled through conciliation or adjudication procedures. Both procedures commence with applications filed by the interested parties.

Conciliation

 Procedures wherein an environmental dispute settlement organ intervenes and actively leads negotiations between the parties to have them reach an agreement based on their mutual concession.

Adjudication

 There are two types of adjudication, i.e., the adjudication of liability and adjudication of the cause of damage

  • Adjudication of liability
Procedures for resolving environmental disputes by handing down legal judgments concerning the existence or non-existence of liability for damages
  • Adjudication of the cause of damage
Procedures for resolving environmental disputes by handing down legal judgments concerning the cause-effect relationship between offending actions and damage
Hearing for adjudication (example)
Hearing for adjudication (example)

There are also mediation and arbitration procedures.

Mediation: 

 Procedures wherein an environmental dispute settlement organ, on its authority or otherwise, intervenes to encourage voluntary settlement of a dispute among the parties

Arbitration:

 Procedures wherein the parties entrust dispute settlement to an environmental dispute settlement organ based on an agreement to follow the judgment made thereby

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