The cabinet on Sunday approved a national program to prevent air pollution, a plan that the Environmental Protection Ministry said can save about 700 lives each year.

Now that the plans – more than a year and a half overdue – have received government authorization, the ministry will already be implementing some elements in as early as the coming weeks, such as a vehiclescrapping protocol and an overhaul of the quarry rehabilitation program, the ministry said.

By enforcing such measures to improve air quality, the ministry estimated that the number of deaths in Israel can be reduced by about 700 annually.

“Air pollution harms all of us, and in order to provide immediate protection to every citizen, I was instructed upon entering my position to immediately promote the the national program to prevent air pollution,” Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said. “Particularly at this time of reductions and cuts, the launch of the program testifies to the importance that we attach to supplying the public with breathable air.”

The Clean Air Law, which passed in the Knesset in 2008, mandated that the government must approve a national plan to prevent air pollution by January 1, 2012.

Although the ministry, along with the environmental advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), had long ago prepared a comprehensive program, the government failed to bring it to the table until now. The delay was caused largely by a series of budget cuts imposed by the Treasury, the ministry explained.

In February 2012, Adam Teva V’Din and the Coalition for Public Health petitioned the High Court to compel the government to pass the program, charging that the government’s failure to speedily approve the program was “unreasonable and constitutes an infringement of the rule of law.”

Some additional components of the national program will include encouraging people to use public transportation and to carpool, creating a pilot program for public transportation on natural gas and enabling incentives for hybrid taxis, the ministry said.

In addition, the program will eventually introduce differential electricity tariffs that vary according to scope of use, launch a comprehensive examination of contaminant risks in homes and public institutes and create incentives for using less polluting fuels, the ministry said.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger