State Comptroller Joseph Shapira slammed the Environmental Protection Ministry’s handling of stationary air pollution sources – such as power plants, quarries and industrial sites – in his latest report on Tuesday.
Calling on the ministry to better streamline its monitoring systems and take action against violators, Shapira argued that the ministry did not optimally use the tools it had available for monitoring and regulating stationary air pollution sources.
He criticized the office for failing both to update regulations on the subject and to finish classifying factories according to potential damage level. He also faulted the ministry for not making efficient use of its computer systems to support supervisory and enforcement procedures, adding that the ministry “does not maintain tight control in this area.”
Describing air pollution from stationary sources as “an environmental hazard that could endanger the health of the people exposed to it,” the comptroller accused the ministry of failing to make the most of the powers that the 2011 Clean Air Law had granted it.
From March through October 2014, the State Comptroller’s Office examined the ministry’s supervision of these stationary sources, particularly looking at the monitoring of factories with high emissions levels. In addition, the office evaluated the ministry’s use of computerized information systems for the supervision of environmental clauses in business licenses.
By the end of the audit, three-and-a-half years after the Clean Air Law went into effect, neither of the two environmental protection ministers who served in that time had sought Knesset approval for new air pollution prevention regulations as the law required, the comptroller said. Meanwhile, he went on, the ministry’s process of reclassifying factories according to their emissions levels was not yet complete as of October 2014.
From 2011 through 2013, many geographical districts within the Environmental Protection Ministry did not meet their supervisory targets, and in 2013 particularly, spot inspections at polluting factories dropped 15 percent, the report said. During that year, samplings in Haifa factories were not conducted at all, the state comptroller continued.
“Thus, the ability of the Environmental Protection Ministry to maintain proper control over periodic samplings of localized emissions of pollution caused by factories was very impaired,” Shapira wrote.
In addition, the report said, from August to November 2012 and from April 2013 through January 2014, about 21% of factories that were supposed to conduct their own periodic samplings failed to do so. As a result, 46% of chimneys at all factories requiring such testing did not undergo their checks as required.
“During these periods, nearly all the district offices of the ministry failed to take enforcement measures against the factories,” the comptroller wrote.
He stressed that the ministry must swiftly take action against any factories that failed to transfer required data from period sampling, as well as reduce the number of plants that were exempt from this requirement.
With the aim of “protecting health and quality of human life,” the state comptroller called on the Environmental Protection Ministry to prioritize its programs that “continuously and closely track and monitor sources of stationary emissions.”
He wrote that “in order to implement this important mission, the ministry must learn lessons from this report, take actions to correct the deficiencies raised here, streamline its supervisory systems and optimally use enforcement measures granted to it against violators of the law and its provisions – and the sooner the better.”
In response, the ministry retorted that the report demonstrated “where cutback policies in the struggle against air pollution are leading.” Such governmental policies, the ministry argued, were “endangering the lives of thousands of people in Israel.”
The ministry specifically referred to its National Program to Prevent Air Pollution, which had its budget cut from an original total of NIS 690 million to only NIS 140m. Under the Clean Air Law, the government had until January 2012 to approve a multi-year, comprehensive prevention program.
While the ministry prepared its NIS 690m. plan at the end of 2011, the government only approved a much-reduced NIS 100m. version in August 2013.
The government also eventually authorized an additional NIS 40m. for the program in a separate decision.
The National Program to Prevent Air Pollution is entirely unrelated to another Environmental Protection Ministry program that likewise recently hit the chopping block: the National Plan for the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
This program, approved with a NIS 2.2b. budget in 2010, was frozen by the government in mid-2013.
“Despite the cuts, as a result of vigorous inspection and enforcement, the Environmental Protection Ministry succeeded in bringing about a reduction of dozens of [percentage points] in air pollution from industrial emissions, and factories are required to abide by stringent European standards,” the ministry said.
Bringing up the issues of air pollution in the Haifa Bay area, which was a source of media buzz in recent weeks following Health Ministry statements on the subject, the Environmental Protection Ministry stressed that airborne contamination in that region had dropped by 70% in six years – a trend that it said was expected to continue.
Regarding the classification of factories according to their environmental impact, the ministry said it had completed this process and that its officials regularly performed spot checks of chimneys at industrial plants with potentially high air pollution. It added, though, that such checks were subject to the limitations of its budget and resources: Without a budget in 2013, the rate of checks went down, but with a budget in 2014, the ministry was able to sample emissions at 257 factories.
“The ministry works continuously for the improvement of environmental regulation in industry, and a year ago, the government even approved – at the initiative of the Environmental Protection Ministry – the decision to promote an integrated environmental licensing law in accordance with the most advanced European standards in the field,” the ministry statement said.