System Abets Environmental Crimes

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System Abets Environmental Crimes

For the first time since the environmental impact evaluation system was introduced in 1981 a construction company has been ordered to restore an area of damaged land. Provincial authorities instructed the Korea Land Corporation to halt its land development program in Yongin, Kyonggi Province. In addition, the corporation will be required to reforest a 33,000-square-meter area.

This is a success for the environmental movement which revived an area considered the "lungs of the city." It was made possible because local residents raised questions about the felling of trees on a hillside and asked environmental authorities to look into the matter. But while one battle appears to have been won, the war on indiscriminate development continues.

In the case of Korea Land Corporation, the subcontractor that did the evaluation, Kumho Engineering Co., incorrectly classified flora in the area. But the Korea Environment Institute, under the Ministry of the Environment, failed to detect the error and the study breezed through the approval process. It was only after residents in the area raised a ruckus that the ministry conducted a reevaluation and discovered that the original study was wrong.

This incident occurred because the environmental evaluation system is flawed. One of the primary causes of inaccurate evaluations is the current method of awarding large construction orders as package deals.

At present, surveying, environmental impact, traffic and disaster evaluations are included in a single bid. The construction company focuses solely on winning the order and pays scant attention to the environmental evaluation. After the bid is won, the environmental evaluation is contracted out as cheaply as possible. The cost of an environmental survey usually accounts for only 1 percent to 2 percent of the total budget for a project. Firms conducting the evaluations are indebted to the construction companies that hire them which lead to collusion. At present, the punishment for such dereliction is not severe enough to deter the practice.

Reform of the environmental evaluation system is urgently needed, beginning with the separation of environmental impact studies from the process of bidding for a construction project.

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