Environment Ministry vows to get tough on ‘green’ crime

Punishment which previously took years to enforce will now take only 12 months.

Instead of enforcement processes taking years before an offender is punished and an environmental hazard treated, the process will take just 12 months, the Environmental Protection Ministry said Tuesday, as it unveiled its new enforcement procedures and data from 2009 at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
The ministry’s enforcement policy was so problematic that the state comptroller devoted an entire section to it in a recent report. Now the ministry, under Gilad Erdan (Likud), is hoping to change that.
Erdan announced a new expedited process Tuesday wherein violations would be dealt with in as little as four-and-a-half months, or at most a year, if criminal proceedings are pursued.
Using administrative tools such as clean-up orders, hearings, and administrative orders, the process should be much shorter than in the past, according to the presentation distributed after the press conference.
The new procedure would also standardize the steps to be taken against all violators, regardless of the type of violation. The ministry is also pushing a bill in the Knesset which would standardize the authority of its inspectors under one law. The bill was approved in its first reading on Monday.
The ministry has 55 inspectors, divided between its Green Police and its Sea and Beaches Branch. Part of the enforcement upgrade would include increasing the inspectors’ authority as well, the ministry said.
The ministry also pledged to crack down on violations by the ministries and government bodies, such as the IDF, to the same degree that it does against private companies.
Dr. Orr Karrasin, head of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the Sapir Academic College Law School, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that the biggest problem was deterrence, not necessarily the size of the fines or the speed with which cases were prosecuted or even the existing laws on the books.
Karrasin is the author of a recent study for the Environmental Policy Center at The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies on the ministry’s enforcement policy.
While Karrasin praised the ministry for placing enforcement high up on its agenda, she was “ambivalent because the procedures announced did not address what I see as the main problems regarding enforcement.
“What I discovered was that one in one thousand people who illegally dump construction and demolition waste [C&DW] were actually caught. That means that the fine to deter them from dumping again would need to be NIS 800,000 for each 1- ton truck – something which will never happen. The literature says deterrence is reached if 30% of offenders are caught, and environmental enforcement does not come near that.
“The ministry needs more monitoring equipment and more environmentally trained inspectors to increase the rate of violators caught in the act,” she said.
“Right now, the Green Police are very good policemen but they are not sufficiently trained environmentally. The system relies on district heads to test the samples. Think about how many factories are in each district and how many a district head can realistically deal with?” she asked.
The ministry said it had already embarked on some new enforcement techniques in 2009. Inspectors had handed out 26 clean-up orders to offenders caught dumping C&DW. The ministry also impounded 126 trucks or vehicles involved in the perpetration of environmental crimes.
Regarding applying environmental laws to the ministries and the IDF, Karrasin pointed out that most of the legislation does not exempt the government. In only a few cases are IDF bases specifically exempted, she said.
She also said it was her impression that the delays in prosecuting and trying cases was not exclusive to environmental cases, but a symptom of the entire judicial system.
In response to using administrative procedures to pressure factories to clean up, Karrasin suggested publishing all of the procedures on the ministry’s Web site so they would be available to the public.
“Much of the administrative procedures to date were undertaken behind closed doors. But the public has a right to know the status of companies and businesses under the Freedom of Information Law and ultimately it would benefit the ministry as well if the entire process were transparent. Similar databases can be found in Europe and the US,” she said.
In 2010, the ministry expects to double its roving air pollution testing units to 12. The current six test about 25,000 vehicles per year, of which 10% fail. Twelve would test 80,000 vehicles, or three percent of vehicles on the road.
The ministry said half of its administrative enforcement processesresulted in the damage being cleaned up and their success rate incriminal cases was 53%. All told, 471 warnings and 77 administrativeorders were issued and 289 hearings were held in 2009. Also, 94indictments were issued and 55 sentences handed down; of the casesdecided, the ministry lost only two.
Criteria for permits fordumping into the sea were also tightened in 2009 and an additionalrequirement to report the content of the permit in the newspaper wasalso added. The ministry would also like to see the fines forenvironmental damage increased.