[Outlook] To our lawmakers: Time to grow up

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[Outlook] To our lawmakers: Time to grow up

President Lee Myung-bak seems to have become a serious promoter of green growth. At the recent G-20 meeting, he talked about green growth with leaders of other countries.

The Lee administration has formed a presidential green growth commission supervised by the prime minister. It has submitted a bill on low-carbon, green growth to the National Assembly. In fact, most major advanced countries are pushing for green growth, which shows that it has become a universal issue.

The moves by the United States Congress make us think about our own situation.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush broke away from the Kyoto Protocol shortly after he took office, drawing international criticism that he was passive about climate change and environmental issues. But then he unveiled the Advanced Energy Initiative and the “20 in 10” energy plan to call on his nation to reduce gasoline use by 20 percent within 10 years.

Congress presented a series of bills that were insightful and meaningful enough to show that the legislature was more than an extension of the executive.

The content of bills and the legislative process can be understood by watching legislative hearings.

Since 2003, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has submitted one bill after another, including the energy policy act. Even after the act was passed, the Senate and the House held a joint oversight hearing, examined problems in implementing the policy and addressed concerns that arose when it was passed. They issued a report summarizing the process.

The hearing was attended not only by officials from the administration but also by university professors, venture capitalists and representatives of the auto manufacturing industry, the oil industry, labor and alternative energy. They shared their knowledge, experience and ideas with the legislators.

Congress even organized a hearing to examine research papers by university professors, looking ahead decades in order to set the United States on the correct path to green growth.

Now let’s look at our own country.

Everyone acknowledges that a sweeping law for green growth is necessary in our time, but they have different stances and opinions. The fields that are directly concerned, such as the iron or petrochemical industries, are worried about new regulations.

Those at one extreme believe that the Green New Deal hides an ulterior motive - to justify the administration’s plan to boost public works. The fate of our country, region and corporations will be decided based on how we draw up a policy to meet international standards and suit Korea at the same time. It is regretful that the National Assembly has not started a full discussion on green growth.

Although Korea and the United States are in different situations, and there are limits on when legislators can affect the law, things can be changed if our National Assembly uses its hearings effectively.

In Korea the Assembly is allowed to hold investigative, legislative and confirmation hearings. But legislative hearings are not taken as seriously as the other two.

The first National Assembly hearings in Korea were held to address the wrongdoing of the Fifth Republic under President Chun Doo Hwan. Out of that confrontational atmosphere, abnormal behaviors such as yelling at other representatives and treating witnesses like criminals have emerged to become normal practice.

At hearings, lawmakers are supposed to listen to the witnesses. But in our National Assembly the lawmakers only insist on their own points of view, thus distorting the purpose of the hearings. Public hearings about legislation are instead held to shape public opinion in the direction that legislators believe it should go.

Now that the National Assembly system has been in place for more than 60 years, Korea’s economy ranks as the world’s 12th- or 13th-largest, and the world is going through economic turmoil.

At this point, the National Assembly must become more mature and serious. The president’s term is only five years, but some National Assembly members have been elected seven or eight times.

Green growth is often called a second industrialization. Thomas Friedman says clean energy will be a yardstick in the next 50 years to measure a country’s economy, environment, energy security and national security. How is Korea’s National Assembly preparing for green growth? The people want the National Assembly to stop fighting and present a policy and vision. I hope that the law on low-carbon, green growth will lead to a revival of proper legislative hearings at the National Assembly.

*The writer is a professor emeritus at Sejong University. Translation by the JooongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Joung-won

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