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(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
Hadash MK Dov Henin got off to a quick start in the new Knesset session on Monday, as two of his proposals were advanced.
In the first proposal, Henin drafted legislation to empower local authorities to train officials to enforce environmental laws. What's more, the fines collected would go into the local authority's coffers to enable them to rehabilitate polluted areas.
Henin's other proposal, which was approved for a first reading, would require potential polluting companies to report to the Environmental Protection Ministry several times a year about their activities to prevent pollution or rehabilitate polluted resources in their area.
The local authorities bill would particularly assist poorer authorities where much of the polluting takes place, Khenin noted. By transferring the fines collected straight to the local authorities, they would have the funds to deal with the problem.
The State Comptroller's Office noted last week in its annual report that one of the problems in the Environmental Protection Ministry was the lack of manpower to press cases and collect fines. This bill would partially alleviate that pressure and encourage more enforcement of environmental laws.
At present, there are only about 30-40 green police in the entire country, a ministry representative told the Economic Affairs Committee on Monday. There were also only four officials to oversee all of the country's lakes and rivers, he added.
The correction to the Water Law, which would require potential polluters to report to the ministry several times a year, would employ a reporting mechanism developed by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Prof. Alon Tal and a team of specialists. The mechanism, according to Khenin, has been very successful around the world, particularly in the US.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said he saw no need to build another coal plant in Ashkelon.
"I don't see what contribution a new plant would make except for generating new employment opportunities for Electric Company employees," Sheetrit told the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. Committee head Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) praised the minister's decision.
Concerning the water crisis, Water Authority head Uri Shani briefed the members of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Monday. He confirmed that water levels in Lake Kinneret and the aquifers were at record lows. So much so, that new black lines were created for the Kinneret to prevent irreversible pollution, he said. The authority had also decided to sink wells above the Kinneret to catch more of the runoff from the tributaries that feed the lake.
Shani noted that the lack of rainfall was in line with global effects felt in other cities such as Sydney, Los Angeles, and Barcelona - where they would be shipping in water from Marseilles soon.
The Water Authority's head stressed that this year was not the main problem, but rather it was the next few years. "We have already 'borrowed' 400 million cubic meters from next year's supply," he said, adding that the country needed at least a 120% rainfall next year for the damage to be mitigated, something that was unlikely to happen.
Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) lawyer Naama Elad postulated that a missing element in water conservation was treating polluted wells. Between 1999 and 2007, 177 wells were put out of commission by pollution, she said.
A representative of one of the country's desalination plants noted that they had been offering another seven million cubic meters of water this year to the Water Authority for the past several months. Shani responded that tenders were going out this week to buy all available water.
Committee head MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) concluded by calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to hold an emergency meeting "to save the water economy." He also expressed his distress at the lack of enforcement manpower in the Environmental Protection Ministry. Finally, he called for more specific answers regarding reservoirs to be brought before the committee, since satisfactory answers about whether Israel had enough of them and whether they were being built had not been provided.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said Monday it had dealt with more incidents of hazardous materials in 2007 than in previous years. The ministry reported that it had treated 213 HAZMAT (hazardous materials) spillages in 2007, as opposed to 192 in 2006 and 188 in 2005.
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