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[EDITORIAL] South Korea‘s Measures to fight air pollution still lack details

[THE INVESTOR] These days, many people make a habit of checking the levels of fine dust in the air, as the country is often swept by a blanket of hazardous particulate materials.

The air pollution problem has become a headache for President Park Geun-hye as people struggling with hazy air filled with harmful pollutants vent their anger against the government.

Park called for a package of “extraordinary” measures to address the problem, and officials announced some measures -- they called them “action plans” -- last week. Regrettably, the measures fall far short of restoring confidence in the government’s ability and commitment to clean the air.

The government announcement was highlighted by plans to increase use of environmentally friendly cars like electric vehicles and facilitate scrapping of decrepit diesel-driven automobiles. Altogether, the government plans to spend 5 trillion won ($4.35 billion) by 2020 on the endeavors.

More specifically, people who scrap their old diesel cars and buy new ones will pay only 30 percent of the special excise tax levied for the purchase. More diesel buses will be replaced by those driven by compressed natural gas vehicles.

Some of the plans, however, either are the same ones officials had mentioned previously, or lack details. Put simply, the measures are not substantial enough to allay the growing public concerns about air quality.

For instance, few would agree that the plan to expand charging facilities to facilitate increase of electric vehicles -- which has long been a key part of the government’s efforts to foster the use of clean energy -- is an “extraordinary” step to deal with the fine dust problem.

There were more half-baked plans as well, such as one to limit the entry of old diesel-powered vehicles into the Seoul metropolitan area. The only fact is that the local governments of Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon have agreed on the idea of setting a low-emissions zone, while detailed “action plans” have yet to be formulated.

The plans to curb fine-dust emissions from coal-powered electricity generation plants also lacked detailed action programs, as they only outlined vague goals like the shutdown of plants that have been in operation for 30 years or more and toughening permissible emissions levels.

Such mediocre measures fall far short of mitigating the concerns of residents in places like Seosan and Taean in the West Coast, where fine dust from nearby coal power generation plants poses serious environmental and health threats.

Clean air is a basic human need and the government has a duty to satisfy the need. Officials should come up with genuinely extraordinary measures.