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Environmental assessments for businesses lax

The government put on hold less than one percent of development projects after undergoing environmental impact assessments, according to Seoul’s Environment Ministry Sunday.

The data highlights the strain between faster development and environmental consciousness.

According to the ministry, environmental impact assessments prior to development have put a brake on less than five percent of projects in the past decade and fallen to less than one percent recently.

Citing environmental impact, the government halted of 6.4 percent of projects in 2001, which fell to 5.4 percent in 2002, 4 percent in 2004, and 2.7 percent in 2007. The ratio fell even further starting 2008 to below 2 percent.

Of the 4,807 environmental assessments in 2010, 72 projects were given approval, and 4,401 were given conditional approval.

The same downward trend was visible in environmental assessment reviews conducted by the Korea Environmental Institute. The state-run institute conducts assessments on businesses, alerting the government to negative effects the business may have on soil, the atmosphere and water.

Since the strengthening of the pre-development environment impact assessment system in June 2006, outcry about inadequacies shown during reviews has lessened, said Song Young-il, chief researcher at the institute.

“It is believed that more detailed recommendations made to business owners after inspecting drafts in light of environmental impact have helped decrease supplementary follow-up measures,” he said.

Others interpret the statistics as a sign of the limitations of the 30-year-old environmental impact assessment system. They point out that the effectiveness of environmental review requirements has been pushed aside by a “development-first” mentality.

“The environmental impact assessment system has been revised numerous times, but rather problems and complaints regarding environment damage from development projects have not subsided,” said Choi Joon-gyu, researcher at KEI.

According to Choi, there are instances where businesses conceal environmental problems simply to pass the review procedure.

By Robert Lee (robert@heraldcorp.com)
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