Clean Air Act vote delayed again

Bill fails to come to vote due to dispute between the Finance Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

clouds 88 (photo credit: )
clouds 88
(photo credit: )
After a marathon six-hour meeting at the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, the vote on the Clean Air Act was once again delayed. This was the 16th such meeting in the process of readying the bill for second and third readings. The 17th meeting was urgently called for Thursday. The bill failed to come to a vote on Tuesday because of a dispute between the Finance Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry over additional manpower needed to enforce the law. In addition, despite the six hours of debate, some of the provisions had yet to be discussed in the committee. Committee head Ophir Paz-Pines opened the discussion with a blistering condemnation of the government for taking more than the allotted 45 days to respond to the committee and then placing a new copy of the entire bill on the committee's desk the day before the session. "This is serious and incomprehensible behavior. The government's version got to the committee the day before the debate, which prevented us from distributing it to all the relevant parties and then discussing the changes thoroughly," Paz-Pines declared. "I hope the government is not attempting to scuttle the bill through technicalities," he went on angrily. "Now it appears that you [the government] took the time allotted to you to reinterpret the entire bill despite the fact that agreements had already been reached regarding the lion's share of the bill. Which basically means the government is asking to discuss the bill from the beginning - something that will never happen. We did not debate this bill for three years for nothing." From discussions between Paz-Pines and Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra, which Paz-Pines shared with the committee, it emerged that 30 more positions would be needed in the ministry to enforce the law. The Treasury has objected to the request because it comes mid-year rather than during the debate over the budget for the following year. However, Gabi Golan, representing the Prime Minister's Office, told the committee, "I believe that we will come to an agreement regarding additional manpower this Sunday during a meeting with the Environmental Protection Ministry's director-general." The Justice Ministry also objected to characterizing infractions of environmental laws as violations of the criminal code. Categorizing them as such would raise the penalty for such crimes in some instances to more than three years behind bars. Justice Ministry representative Roni Talmor told the committee that "environmental violations are economic-technical ones and not crimes against the establishment." However, Paz-Pines decided that severe violations should be considered crimes under the criminal code, "which would be an expression of the public norm" in the matter.