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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A new Japanese law intended to clean up the Tokyo area’s exhaust-filled air may inconvenience GIs who drive diesel-powered vehicles.

But the stringent emissions regulation that went into effect Wednesday provides a grace period until at least Sept. 30, 2004, for most diesel passenger cars and vans, said Yoshihiko Suzuki, an administrative specialist for Yokota’s pass and registration office.

The law requires vehicles emitting more than 0.25 grams of particulate — tested over a one-hour period — to be fitted with a pollution-control device approved by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

Particulate matter — or the soot spewed by diesel vehicles — is linked to cancer, bronchial asthma, pollen allergies and other ailments, according to a recent Tokyo metropolitan government study. The study indicates 40 percent of suspended particulate matter in the Tokyo area is emitted from automobiles, primarily those powered by diesel fuel.

The regulation extends to Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka metropolitan regions. U.S. military bases affected include Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Yokosuka Naval Base.

At U.S. bases in the Kanto Plain, owners of privately owned diesel cars and trucks will feel the impact of the law, since the regulation applies to them, though the regulation does not apply to government vehicles, officials said.

While off-base diesel trucks not in compliance must go to the expense of installing a pollution-control device — or risk fines up to 500,000 yen (about $4,515) — owners of diesel autos with Y and E license plates won’t be able to register their vehicles after a certain date, Suzuki said.

“If you own a diesel-powered vehicle, you won’t be able to re-register,” said 2nd Lt. Benjamin Sakrisson, USFJ spokesman. “They’re trying to get all the old vehicles that use diesel off the road.”

Older cars will be phased out first. For example, a diesel vehicle that receives a Japanese Compulsory Inspection every two years will not pass inspection after Sept. 30, 2004, if it was initially registered prior to Sept. 30, 1995.

“If you pass the inspection before the date [Sept. 30, 2004], you can drive another two years, until your next inspection,” Suzuki said.

To be registered on base, a vehicle must have Japanese Compulsory Inspection. Vehicles initially registered between Oct. 1, 1995, and Sept. 30, 2002, can still be operated up to nine years from the first registration date.

USFJ officials did not know how many base privately owned vehicles would be affected.

Suzuki estimates at Yokota alone, between 50 and 60 privately owned, diesel vehicles are registered, mostly sports utility vehicles such as the Hilux and some Toyota Town Ace vans.

“It’s hard to know the impact,” he said.

Suzuki advised base residents to “beware of bad buys.” Local auto dealers off-base may start slashing prices on diesel cars and trucks, he said, adding it’s wise to opt for a gasoline-fueled vehicle.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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