Deputy A-G recommends raising Dead Sea Works royalties

Green groups pleased with suggestions but caution gov’t not to cave in to captains of industry.

The Dead Sea Works 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Dead Sea Works 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Deputy Attorney-General Avi Licht issued a recommendation on Sunday to the Finance Ministry stressing the need to raise the royalty fees that the Dead Sea Works company pays.
Green groups praised the move as a step forward in achieving public interests.
Licht’s report follows a May study commissioned by the Tourism Ministry’s Dead Sea Preservation Government Company, which advocated dredging all 20 million tons of salt from the southern Dead Sea Basin as the most effective method of combating the dangerously rising water level. The study, however, estimated that dredging the salt over the next 20 years would require about NIS 6.5 billion, a sum that both the authors and green groups thought should mostly be paid by Dead Sea Works, as its mineral evaporation process is causing the rising water level.
At the end of May, the tourism and environmental protection ministers also endorsed the study’s suggestions.
“Our legal stance is that Dead Sea Works must bear the most significant part of the costs of the harvest,” Licht wrote in his report.
The ever-rising water level in Pool 5 and the ongoing mineral consumption, Licht continued, “causes damage to public interests and is expected to cause future damage to the tourism industry and to additional environmental interests.”
Therefore, because its production methods are causing the problems, it is most suitable that Dead Sea Works bear the brunt of the costs of the salt harvesting and beach protection, according to Licht.
Dead Sea Works has a permit to operate in the basin until 2030, and the company estimated that until this point, the salt harvest would cost about NIS 3.76 billion; however, the benefit to the company of having a harvested sea would be equivalent to about NIS 2.5 billion, the report estimated.
If negotiations between the government and Dead Sea Works to achieve a suitable deal do not go smoothly, Licht suggested that lawmakers step in to determine how the costs will be distributed to achieve the “long-term vision” of harvesting salt.
“The recommendation of the report of the deputy attorney- general, Avi Licht, is an important step in the right direction,” Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), said in a statement. “Dead Sea Works earned millions at the expense of public natural resources that we know as the Dead Sea, and it is responsible for the loss of 150 million cubic meters per year. Therefore, in accordance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the plant must bear 100 percent of the salt harvesting expenses.
The Treasury must stand firm against the pressures of captains of industry who are trying to evade responsibility for damage they caused and are generating further damage that will yield them profits – in the form of the construction of Pool No. 6.”
Bromberg was referring to the potential establishment of an additional mineral evaporation pool for Dead Sea Works, an idea in which the company has expressed interest.
Amit Bracha, executive director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva v’Din), agreed that any negotiations must not included a policy that would allow the company to set up an additional mineral evaporation pond.
Following the release of the deputy attorney-general’s legal opinion, it is necessary to ensure that the government does not slacken its efforts until the recommendation is fully implemented and until the royalties are raised, Bracha added.
Last week, Adam Teva v’Din had made similar recommendations to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Trajtenberg Committee, arguing that additional income generated by charging Dead Sea Works more could be given to public sectors in need.
“In these days of social protest, it is inconceivable to have public funds finance the salt harvest while the main beneficiaries of the harvest are the [processing] plants,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.
“I welcome the opinions of the deputy attorneygeneral, which are anchored in important environmental principles, such as: ‘polluter pays’ and ‘extended manufacturer guarantee.’”