Analysis: It's all about the minister

Analysis Its all about

October 26, 2009 01:19
4 minute read.

There was nothing truly startling about Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan's choice of goals for the next year - they are all worthy and, if achieved, will drastically improve the standard of living for the country's residents. What is perhaps startling is that in other countries these same issues are already taken care of. The ministry is readying for the Clean Air Act, which will go into effect the year after next. The first Clean Air Act was passed in the US in 1970 and totally revised in 1990. In Israel, it will be the first comprehensive clean air act in the nation's history. Erdan also wants to push for a packaging law - inspired by most of Europe, which already has such a law. A packaging law is to the Deposit Law what a tank is to a moped. European countries have reached truly impressive rates of recycling because of packaging laws which have already been in effect for years. Many other countries have also already prepared detailed plans to reduce emissions; Israel's plan is just taking shape now. In contrast to the ministry's enforcement difficulties, then US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson told The Jerusalem Post a year ago that he did not have any trouble with enforcement, since he had regulations "with teeth" and a strict enforcement division. (Granted, the EPA is a much much larger organization than the Environmental Protection Ministry). Many of Erdan's goals also overlap with those of his predecessor Gideon Ezra, like waste management, air pollution, climate change and greening the economy. Many of the goals for 2010 are also determined by the current state of legislation or regulations the ministry has been working on for many years. It is no surprise the ministry is preparing for the Clean Air Act after its passage last year, while the packaging law is really part of a two-decade-long plan to first establish regular landfills and then to implement a recycling revolution. Education is a perennial favorite, and, really, who can go wrong placing an emphasis on education? So what might make the difference between yet another year of lofty goals for the ministry and an inability to move them forward? Well, Gilad Erdan, for one. There's a massive difference between Ezra and Erdan. Erdan, for one, has the prime minister's ear because of his stalwart support for Netanyahu's right-wing political agenda. Furthermore, Erdan sought out the position, rather than having it thrust upon him as a last hurrah before the big fade-away. Erdan comes armed to Knesset debates, conferences and any platform to promote the ministry's agenda with facts and figures and an impressive understanding of the complex details of the issue. Take, for instance, a recent Knesset Economic Affairs Committee meeting about the Deposit Law. Rather than turning into a platform for MKs to spout meaningless sound bites about making bottles more expensive, it turned into a totally professional debate about the merits of various strategies for better implementing the Deposit Law. Erdan engaged in heated debate with veteran and novice environmental lawmakers Dov Henin (Hadash), Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). But more than just engaging in debate with them, Erdan staunchly defended, from a professional standpoint, his decision to exempt bottles over 1.5 liters from the Deposit Law. At the end of the discussion, he even had Horowitz nodding in agreement with some of his points. Erdan's been a vociferous objector to the new coal-fired power plant in Ashkelon as well, vying with National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) for the prime minister's attention on the matter. It certainly helps that he's fighting for clean air for his hometown. As opposed to his predecessor who chose a former commander of Sayeret Matkal with no environmental background whatsoever as his director-general, Erdan promoted from within, choosing Yossi Inbar, a 20 year career man to be his director-general. Moreover, he has surrounded himself with experts from the environmental NGOs like Alona Karo Shefer (former Life and Environment head) his chief of staff and Aviad Oren, former spokesman for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. It's been a very long time since the ministry has seen that same kind of passion at its helm. Ezra will not be remembered fondly - ironically, he's more of a staunch advocate for the environment now, as a backbench MK, than he ever was as minister. All anyone ever remembers about Tzahi Hanegbi's time as minister is the political appointments scandal, and who even remembers that Dalia Itzik was once environment minister at all? So now a young, energetic minister is trying to ram environmental priorities down the government's throat in a sugar coating. Understanding his audience, Erdan no doubt deliberately presented all of the economic benefits to "green" measures and all of the potential financial penalties for failing to act. There's no doubt that Erdan is benefiting from the green trend which continues to sweep the world. Being able to point to numerous worldwide examples of massive investment in alternative energy has got to make Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's heads perk up. Detailing Israel's private-sector cleantech advantage should also be music to their ears. At the end of the day, with a ministry as tiny as Environment, the minister has to make up for the lack of manpower and budget with sheer perseverance and will. Now that Erdan has figured out what he wants to do at the ministry, it's time to see him bring all of his political skills and passion to bear to get them accomplished. So far, he's off to a good start, but the race is long and the jumps are high.

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