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SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) –– Rival political parties agreed Wednesday to pass a bill on the designation of severe fine dust air pollution as a national disaster next week as the country struggles with the worst particulate matter problem on record.
In an emergency meeting, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and two opposition parties agreed to hold a plenary session next Wednesday to pass a series of bills related to fine dust.
Such a designation would allow the government to inject state money when an urgent expenditure arises.
The parties’ floor leaders agreed to consider an extra budget to fight fine dust if the government draws it up.
They also called on the government to spend reserve funds swiftly to provide supplies, such as anti-dust masks, to the underprivileged.
The meeting was proposed earlier in the day by Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
The parties also decided to send a delegation to Beijing to promote cooperation between the two countries in tackling fine dust.
“If fine dust is declared a disaster, reserve funds will be spent in providing supplies,” DP floor leader Hong Young-pyo told reporters.
“When there is demand for air purifiers, in such places as senior citizen centers and schools, the National Assembly will consider supplementary budget after the government clarifies the purpose the money will be used for,” he added.
South Korea implemented emergency measures for the sixth consecutive day to fight fine dust, a large portion of which is believed to have blown in from China.
Fine dust has emerged as a political issue that can affect the public support rating here as it is directly linked to people’s health and welfare.
The ruling DP is seeking to explore ways to cooperate with China to resolve the problem.
“When the environment ministers from South Korea and China met last month, China acknowledged for the first time that fine dust generated from it flies to Korea,” DP chairman Lee Hae-chan said at a budget policy meeting on the southern resort island of Jeju.
“The DP will make efforts to come up with a joint response with China for the fine dust problems through talks with the environment and foreign ministries,” he added.
The conservative LKP denounced what it called the Moon Jae-in government’s clumsy response to the pollution and unleashed an attack on President Moon’s “nuclear-free” policy as one of the main culprits for the dense fine dust level.
“One of the main culprits for fine dust is thermal power plants that use coal,” Rep. Kim Moo-sung said. “The government should immediately stop the nuclear-free policy and resume nuclear reactors whose construction is completed.”
At an urgent briefing from the environment minister Tuesday, President Moon ordered the government to take extraordinary measures to fight fine dust pollution.
He called for interagency efforts, including the installation of high-capacity air purifiers in more day care centers and schools.
Moon also instructed government officials to work with China earlier in the day and also called for his country’s own response, such as the permanent shutdown of aged power plants that use fossil fuel.
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