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Fighting pollution with gimmicks

Jan 18,2018
Seoul decided to allow residents to use its mass transit system Thursday for free during rush hour for the third time this year. The Seoul metropolitan government took the action after it enforced emergency measures to reduce fine dust in the capital area by dissuading car drivers from using their vehicles for commuting purposes. The step is expected to cost as much as 15 billion won ($14 million) from the city coffers for two days, Wednesday and Thursday.

Controversy arose after Seoul’s decision. Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil immediately criticized it as a “waste of money without effects” followed by political circles urging a halt to such populist measures. After Nam refused to join in offering free public transport, Seoul denounced him for not cooperating with the capital city. In the meantime, the controversy is fast turning into a political battle between ruling and opposition parties, although neither seems interested in finding actual solutions to our ever-worsening pollution problem. The city government enjoys resorting to a quick fix: allowing people to use public transit for free. But the government must take more responsibility for not tackling the problem with any seriousness.

Fine dust is a genuine threat to public health. During his presidential campaign, President Moon Jae-in made promises to establish a special division to address the problem in cooperation with related ministries. He also vowed to deal with the issue in a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, because China has a large share of the blame for air pollution in Seoul.

As the discord between Seoul and Gyeonggi over the problem illustrates, no policies can work if the central government and local governments don’t join hands. Domestic solutions alone cannot reduce fine dust in the air either.

Last September — four months after Moon took office — the government announced a comprehensive plan to control fine dust, which included restriction on driving old diesel cars and an expansion in the number of eco-friendly automobiles. The government went so far as to push forward a joint statement between Moon and Xi in a summit. But the reality has been otherwise. It turned out that a task force under the Prime Minister’s Office to tackle the problem has been run by an official who has to handle other matters as well.

We urge the government to come up with long-term plans after creating a government body and devise fundamental solutions by putting some pressure on China to do something about our air.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 34