Japan's ruling party, while hardly a champion of environmental issues, is apparently rather touchy about any criticism of its policies in that area.
That may explain the decision by the Liberal Democratic Party to drop three anti-nuclear activists from the government's Central Environment Council.
The three individuals were approached about becoming or staying on as panel members last December, before the Lower House election that brought the LDP back into power, but have subsequently been told their services are no longer required.
While Environment Ministry officials cited a need for fewer members so as to energize discussions, it has not gone unnoticed that the three are vocal opponents of nuclear energy and forceful advocates of more drastic measures to combat global warming.
Ministry officials said Nobuteru Ishihara called for a review of the number of panel members after he was named environment minister following the LDP's landslide victory on Dec. 16.
January is traditionally when the Central Environment Council appoints new members. By early December 2012, the ministry had a roster of 30 people.
However, after the change in government, the first council meeting scheduled for Jan. 10 was postponed and the council membership reconsidered.
A new lineup was appointed on Feb. 8, but only 25 members were included.
Among the individuals left off the new list are Mie Asaoka, a lawyer who heads the environmental nongovernmental organization Kiko Network, Kazuhiro Ueta, an economics professor at Kyoto University, and Junko Edahiro, an environmental journalist.
Asaoka has campaigned for Japan to maintain its international pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent in 2020 over 1990 levels. However, the Abe administration has said it wants to review that promise in light of the 2011 nuclear disaster that has forced Japan to rely more sharply on thermal power generation.
Ueta chaired a panel tasked with considering whether that 25-percent reduction goal was achievable under the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.
All three individuals advocate greater use of natural energy sources. Prior to the nuclear disaster that has left nearly all reactors idled, they had proposed wide-ranging reforms of the electricity supply system to sharply reduce the nation's dependence on nuclear energy.
Asaoka had been a member of the council since 2005. She said a ministry official told her privately in early December that her reappointment was a done deal.
However, in early February, a high-ranking ministry official contacted her to say she had been dropped from the new roster because the number of council members was being reduced.
Both Ueta and Edahiro served as temporary members of a subcommittee discussing measures to deal with global warming until last year. According to them, they were informed late last year that they would be included as full members of the council. However, they were contacted this year by ministry officials and told the earlier decision had been rescinded.
Regarding the postponement of the first council meeting, Ishihara said at a Jan. 8 news conference, "Now that there is a new Cabinet (under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe), members need time to get used to the new policies that are being put forward."
In response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun about the thinning out of council members, the Environment Ministry's Policy and Coordination Division said, "We have decided to streamline the council in order to improve discussions."
According to sources in the policy division, ministry officials showed Ishihara the proposed lineup of council members shortly after he became environment minister, expecting him to approve the list. Instead, he called for a review of the number and makeup of panel members.
In addition to specialists, the council includes members who represent local governments, business organizations and labor unions.
A high-ranking ministry official said: "We cannot simply eliminate members who have been recommended by various organizations. As a result, a number of those considered pro-environmental were not included in the council."
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