Cabinet seeks alternatives to gasoline cars

Committee to explore ways of encouraging "clean" transportation.

cars traffic 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
cars traffic 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The cabinet on Sunday approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On to establish a steering committee to explore ways of encouraging "clean" transportation that would reduce the use of gasoline in Israel. "As part of the global challenge to reduce environmental damage and specifically the harm from the use of gas by private vehicles, the prime minister and the finance minister have decided to explore the possibility of alternative technologies that do not pollute," the Finance Ministry said in a statement after the weekly meeting. In addition to a steering committee, several subcommittees will be formed to examine tax incentives that would encourage the public to use the alternative technologies, as well as the subjects of joint research and development with international auto companies and the creation of a national network of charging stations for electronic cars. While Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev welcomed the decision, he told The Jerusalem Post, "There's a terrible lack of follow-through in Israeli energy policy." Tal cited a similar bill from 1998 that created a committee to look into, and mandate the promotion of, "the development of technologies for the efficient exploitation of alternative energies through the reduction of dependence on imported fuels and to reduce environmental pollution." Four years later that committee - similar in structure to the one about to be established - concluded that the answer lay in electrical power plants from renewable resources. The government adopted a decision at the time that, among other things, required 2 percent of consumers' electricity to come from renewable resources by 2007, with a 1% increase every six years. "That 2% has not been met yet," said Tal, who founded the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. "So let's implement those decisions already on the books." Tal also suggested that such a program might not be the best use of resources; rather, programs to encourage more people to carpool, bike and take public transportation might be more useful. After the subcommittees report back to the steering committee, the steering committee will submit its recommendations to the government. The cabinet has set a March 15 deadline for the committee report. Tax incentives must be approved by December 15 of this year. The Treasury's budget director will lead the committee, with representatives from the Prime Minister's Office and the Transportation, National Infrastructures, Industry, Trade and Labor, Environmental Protection, and Justice ministries participating, as well as the Tax Authority, the Antitrust Authority, and the Interior Ministry's Planning Authority. Two weeks ago, Israeli-born Shai Agassi - the former top software architect at the world's biggest maker of business-management software, SAP AG - said he had raised $200 million to develop a global network of stations for charging electric vehicles. Investors in Agassi's so-called Project Better Place include Tel Aviv-based Israel Corp. - a holding company controlled by the billionaire Ofer family - Morgan Stanley and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn. Bloomberg contributed to this report.