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Gov't to get tough on HFC refrigerant violations

TOKYO -- The government is set to tighten legal punishments against businesses that fail to take hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in used business equipment to collectors, in a bid to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to people familiar with the move.

HFCs, used as refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigerators, are notorious for causing atmospheric warming. Japanese law already sets penalties for violations by business users, but HFC recovery rates remain lower than the goal set by the government.

Under the plan, the government will revise relevant legislation to make it easier to punish offenders by simplifying requirements for prefectural regulators to fine them. The government plans to submit a bill on the revisions to the forthcoming regular session of the Diet.

HFCs have been in wider use since the 1990s when predecessor refrigerants -- chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) -- became regulated due to their ozone-depleting nature. Although HFCs do not pose a threat to the ozone layer, their greenhouse effect is up to 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide.

While the government aims to raise the HFC collection rate in Japan to 50 percent by fiscal 2020 based on a global warming countermeasures plan approved by the Cabinet in 2016, the actual rate hovered around 38 percent in fiscal 2017.

Under the Act on Rational Use and Proper Management of Fluorocarbons, users of business-purpose equipment containing HFCs are required to hand over the gas to registered collectors when disposing of the equipment. Offenders face a fine of up to 500,000 yen.

However, this obligation is not well known, and steps to punish violators are complicated. Under the new scheme, the national government will make the process simple and enable prefectural authorities to apply penalties to offenders as soon as their offenses have been confirmed.

As there are many cases where HFCs are not recovered at building demolition sites, the new measure will also empower prefectural governments to conduct on-site inspections to check if such coolants are properly collected based on information provided by contractors.

(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Igarashi, Science & Environment News Department)

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