The government on Sunday approved a NIS 17 million Environmental Protection Ministry plan to rehabilitate portions of the Arava Desert damaged by an early December oil spill.
Initiated by Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ophir Akunis, the program is designated to treat soil contaminated by the spill, as well as help restore the wildlife populations injured over the course of the event. As part of the plan, a special team is to be appointed to evaluate the environmental impact of various Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company activities on both dry land and beaches.
Meanwhile, EAPC already has begun contributing funds to the cleanup and will continue to do so, according to the polluter-pays principle, the Environment Ministry explained.
“The government adopted my position that in addition to the polluter-pays principle that is being applied to the EAPC, we must [take] a first immediate step in repairing the injustice caused to the entire public, to animals and to plants in the Arava,” Akunis said on Sunday. “The plan that was approved by the government today will enable the quick rehabilitation of a unique animal population in the Arava that was hurt.”
The approved plan involves opening a closed Eilat beach on EAPC-owned property to the city’s residents and visitors.
In this coastal strip, ministry officials said, there is likely a wealth of natural resources and fish species.
As part of the plan, Akunis is appointing a special director to oversee the rehabilitation and monitoring activities.
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Some such actions include submitting environmental surveys on the impacts of the spill on the Arava Desert and the Gulf of Aqaba, the ministry said.
The plan also mandates the expansion of the Avrona Nature Reserve for use by animals and members of the public to compensate for the areas undergoing rehabilitation, the ministry said. In addition, the Finance Ministry has been tasked with establishing a budget for means and resources to prepare for the treatment and management of future oil contamination incidents, as well as ensuring the presence of necessary equipment, the ministry said.
Prior to the budget’s approval, Adam Teva V’Din – Israel Union for Environmental Defense, filed a petition to the High Court of Justice on Sunday morning, demanding that the confidentiality privileges of EAPC be revoked.
“The company operates under a fog that is difficult to find in another country,” said Amit Bracha, Adam Teva V’Din’s executive director.
The company has benefited from certain such privileges since 1968, allowing public information about the company’s licensing procedures, environmental risks, investigation results and State Comptroller findings to be concealed from the public, the petition argues. Calling the mandated secrecy regarding EAPC operations an “anachronistic relic,” the non-governmental organization’s petition explains that the confidentiality clause stems from diplomatic relations with Iran during the Shah’s rule.
Other government and private infrastructure companies, such as the Israel Electric Corporation, desalination plants and water systems are required to reveal public information in a transparent manner and do not benefit from the same confidentiality clause the EAPC maintains, the petition argues.
“There is no dispute that the activity of the EAPC has far-reaching consequences on public health, environment and quality of life, and conceals potentially destructive risks,” the petition says. “Therefore, it is particularly befitting and necessary that the information regarding the activities and the conduct of the company be transparent to the public, both in order to be able to make informed decisions and to ensure the effective supervision of company activities.”
Although Bracha praised the government’s decision to approve the rehabilitation budget, he accused the lawmakers of failing to sufficiently apply the polluter-pays principle to the EAPC. The proportion of money being transferred by the EAPC relative to the size of the disaster is inadequate, he argued.
“The proposal includes a series of important environmental suggestions relating to environmental education and land rehabilitation, but there is an ongoing policy at the Environmental Protection Ministry of not providing a real answer to the ecological disaster that occurred weeks ago in the Arava,” Bracha said.
Maya Jacobs, the CEO of environmental organization Zalul, slammed the plan for failing to adequately prevent future pollution incidents of similar scale. In addition, she criticized government officials for charging Israeli citizens for the cleanup and argued that the EAPC should be wholly responsible for the rehabilitation.
“This is another indication that in Israel we learn only after disasters,” Jacobs said. “The state must hurry up before a similar disaster occurs off the coast of Israel. The state must protect its most important natural resource – the Mediterranean Sea – before gas and condensate drilling that is carried out there today, oil drilling that will begin in 2015, as well as the great movement of many ships.”
“In light of the disastrous spill of EAPC, the government must settle this issue immediately,” she added.
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