Particulate-belching trucks in the Tokyo area will have to clean up their act beginning Oct. 1, when new emissions regulations aimed at improving air quality become law.

But GIs owning diesel-powered vehicles can breathe easy for now: No immediate plans exist to expand the laws to cover privately owned cars and vans.

“Air pollution is especially serious in the metropolitan areas, not in the outlying areas, and it won’t be applied throughout Japan,” said Soichi Yamamoto, chief of the vehicle pollution control department in Tokyo’s Bureau of Environment.

For now, commercial vehicles operated in Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures will be subject to the new regulations.

Yamamoto said emission-control laws were tightened at various intervals beginning in 1989, 1993-94 and again in 1997. The Oct. 1 changes are the most sweeping and require vehicles not meeting standards to be fitted with emission-control devices.

Vehicles emitting more than 0.25 grams of particulates tested over a one-hour period must be fitted with one of two pollution-control devices approved by the Tokyo metropolitan government. One filters particulate matter; the other oxidizes particulates using a device similar to a catalytic converter.

Violators will be subject to a warning, then a fine of 500,000 yen, or $4,348 at current exchanges rates, for subsequent violations.

But outfitting a truck with a pollution-control device is costly, said Yasushi Saito of the Tokyo Trucking Association.

“A diesel particulate filter costs between 600,000 yen to 1.5 million yen including installation,” he said — from $5,217 to $13,043. “It will be difficult for some companies to continue business.”

Trucking companies can get a subsidy from the Tokyo Metropolitan government, the Trucking Association, and from other Japanese government sources. However, total subsidies will cover just a fifth of the cost of the most expensive 1.5 million-yen filter, Saito said.

He said of the 100,000 trucks in operation in Tokyo, about 50,000 don’t meet the new standard and about 20,000 need to install the devices.

Yamamoto said Tokyo government inspectors and Tokyo Metropolitan Police will examine vehicles at truck terminals, road checkpoints and trucking companies to determine which ones meet or exceed the new emissions levels.

Commander, Naval Forces Japan has no current plan to move away from using diesel-powered vehicles overseas, said spokesman Jon Nylander.

“Government vehicles in the states are moving to alternate fuels and are trying to reach a certain percentage within their fleets,” he said.

“We are exempt at this time.”

According to CNFJ figures, the Navy Public Works Centers at bases throughout Japan own and operate 566 diesel-powered vehicles and pieces of heavy equipment.

Any decision to move away from diesel-powered vehicles will be considered when new vehicle contracts come up in the future, Nylander said.

There should be “no major impact” on either official or private vehicles, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman said. Government vehicles are exempt and most personal vehicles that run on diesel fuel do not exceed the new rules’ emissions thresholds, said Air Force Col. Victor Warzinski.

Given the relatively small number of diesel vehicles in private use on American bases, Warzinski said, the impact likely will be minimal.

Strict emission restrictions on Japanese-made cars forced many leading automobile makers to look into hybrid and low-emission vehicles. Japanese air quality, Reuters reported, dramatically improved between 1970 and 1992, when increased vehicle inspections contributed to slashing vehicles’ sulfur oxide emissions by 82 percent.

Shintaro Ishihara won a second term as Tokyo governor last April, campaigning in part on a cleaner-air platform.

He frequently toted a plastic bottle filled with soot to underscore what he said constituents were breathing every day.

— Naoko Sekioka contributed to this report.

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