With only a week left by law to approve a national plan to prevent air pollution, cabinet members have yet to vote on the issue, allegedly due to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s financial opposition to the program.

Launched by the Environmental Protection Ministry, the program comes under the jurisdiction of the January 1, 2011, Clean Air Law, which mandated that the government enact such a plan within one year’s time, according to Adam Teva V'Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) Executive-Director Amit Bracha. Should the government fail to approve the program within the next two weeks or so, Bracha said Adam Teva V'Din plans to file a petition with the High Court.

“The law says very clearly that the national plan has to be approved in a year from January 1, 2011,” Bracha told The Jerusalem Post, noting an approval on any later date is simply illegal. “The government is not complying with the Clean Air Law,” he added.

The Environmental Protection Ministry expressed surprise after hearing from the Finance Ministry this week that the program was too costly.

Unfortunately, the Treasury is unable to see the enormous impact the plan would have on the environment and the Israeli public, a ministry official said.

The Finance Ministry declined to comment.

When the Clean Air Law itself was first in the process of being approved, there had been a lot of conflict between the finance minister and other officials due to the expectedly high budget that such a law would require, Bracha said.

“There were disagreements between both parties, but at last the law was approved,” he said.

WhileAdam Teva V'Din believes several improvements could be made to the national program in its current form, the organization praised the ministry for preparing a comprehensive plan and bringing it to the table.Adam Teva V'Din, along with the Coalition for Public Health, suggested the environment ministry and the cabinet implement a series of additional measures alongside the plan, specifically relating to the transportation sector. The government should declare Jerusalem, Haifa and municipalities in the Gush Dan region as official air pollution “victim regions,” and all the relevant authorities in these areas should coordinate their efforts regarding transportation, according to the organizations.

The groups said the government must formulate a new plan for enhancing the country’s mass transit system, so that it is a reliable, clean and accessible alternative to private vehicles.

But regardless of whether these additional steps are taken, Bracha stressed that the national program for preventing and reducing air pollution must be approved.

“The law is very clear about it – it’s not giving the government permission to approve the national plan,” Bracha said.

“They must, in one year’s time, approve it.”

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