Pollution needs bigger solutionDusty air has reached an intolerable state, sending the president to call for all-out policy actions to reduce fine dust pollution. The government plans to come up with a comprehensive measure. But before it meets for a cabinet meeting, it will have to iron out differences among government offices.
Before any coordinated efforts, the Ministry of Environment proposed to raise diesel prices to rein in various ultrafine dust and pollutant emissions from diesel-fuel vehicles that now account for more than half of the cars on the roads in the country because of relatively cheap fuel cost.
It claims that air would become significantly cleaner if fuel costs are made expensive and diesel-fueled cars are reduced on the road that account for 70 percent of vehicle dust emissions. But the finance and industry ministries oppose the move in fear of hurting drivers who are mostly lower-income class or self-employed.
A higher fuel cost is not a lasting solution. Much of the smoky air is attributable to dust winds from China. Measures on dusty air should first be addressed in the context of joint efforts among Korea, China, and Japan that have been holding regular environment ministerial meetings since 2013.
Curbing emissions from industrial sites, power stations, and nitrogen oxide emission from diesel vehicles is also imperative.
A hike in diesel fuel without fundamental action on smoke from China will only add to transportation and logistics costs and inflation. The government encouraged diesel cars with subsidies in the first place. Taxi drivers and self-employed merchants who rely on a truck powered by cheaper diesel fuel will be hard hit.
Diesel prices are closely related to industrial competitiveness. Price policy differs by country, according to their industrial structure. Diesel in Britain, with relatively low manufacturing activity, costs 101 percent more than gasoline.
Japan like Korea caps diesel prices at the 85 percent level of gasoline despite pollution concerns. Japan instead came up with an air-cleaning system to soak up emissions.
We too must come up with a lasting solution. Priorities must be fine-tuned. Before raising the fuel price, diesel vehicles more than 10 years old must be removed from the roads.
Authorities must strengthen supervision on mechanisms to control nitrogenous compound emissions fitted in diesel-powered vehicles and pollutants from industrial sites. Actions should be aimed to help the nation not please the president.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 26, Page 30