Do they care about air?
Starting March 27, we will be more affected by fine dust as the Ministry of Environment is strengthening the environmental standard of PM2.5 fine dust particles to the level of the United States and Japan. The “normal” used to be below 50 micrograms per cubic meter, but it will be changed to below 35 micrograms. The days that had been “normal” and did not require special caution will be “unhealthy.” From the beginning of the year to March 20, there have been nine days with “bad” PM 2.5 air quality, but with the new standard, 25 days would be categorized as “bad.”
Confusion is inevitable. The number of days that elementary, middle and high school students cannot engage in outdoor activities will increase from last year’s 12 days to 57 days. The best way to prevent confusion is to lower the fine particulate matters below the standard. However, the Ministry of Environment’s plan does not specify how the standard will be met.
The government announced a comprehensive plan to lower the domestic fine particulate emissions by 30 percent by year 2022.
The National Assembly failed to do its job. Forty-nine bills related to fine dust are pending in the National Assembly, including mandatory two-shift vehicle operations. Not one bill passed this year.
Clause 1 Article 35 of the Constitution states, “All citizens shall have the right to a healthy and pleasant environment. The State and all citizens shall endeavor to protect the environment.” However, the existing Framework Act on Environmental Policy defines the term “environmental standards” as “desirable environmental conditions or quality levels that the State should achieve and maintain.” While the number of days allowed to exceed the environmental standards should be no more than four days, there is no compulsory plan. Ewha Womans University Professor of environmental engineering Kim Yong-pyo said that, in the United States, state governments present action plans on how to meet fine dust standards, and the budget is linked to the plan, unlike Korea where meeting the standard is compulsory.
Without feasible and specific plans, the new environmental standard could be a mere declaration.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 29
*The author is an environmental news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.