The government is losing between NIS 200 million and NIS 900m. per year by not implementing a discharge fee for companies that have permits to dump sewage into the Mediterranean Sea, according to the annual State of the Sea Report released by Zalul on Wednesday. Zalul, an NGO committed to protecting Israel's seas, based its figures on an analysis of eight of the highest-polluting companies who received permits to dump into the sea. Without a discharge fee, Zalul charged, these and other companies were essentially receiving a subsidy on the backs of the government and the environment. According to Zalul, the Environmental Protection Ministry has the authority to institute such a fee. The permitting committee also has the responsibility to refuse to grant a permit until Best Alternative Technologies (BAT) have been installed to prevent as much pollution as possible. Zalul charged that the committee was not equipped to determine whether companies had actually done so before issuing a permit. This year's report focused solely on economic aspects connected with the seas. Zalul analyzed the revenues of the eight companies - Haifa Chemicals, Oil Refineries Ltd. (BAZAN), Carmel Olefins Ltd., Gadot Biochemical Industries Ltd., Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) - Fertilizers, Oil Refineries Ashdod, Makhteshim-Agan Industries Ltd., and Delta Galil - to arrive at the NIS 200m.-NIS 900m. figures. The lower sum represents more than the basic budget of the entire Environmental Protection Ministry. The organization calculated a discharge fee ranging from NIS 4 to NIS 16.75 per cubic meter. The former represents the amount charged by municipal sewage treatment facilities, while the latter represents the municipal rate plus the median fee of the Ramat-Hovav Biological Treatment Facility "Tibam" for pre-treating highly polluted effluent, according to the report. A NIS 16.75-per-cu.m. fee would generate NIS 220m. per year from those eight companies alone. Moreover, the report said, such fees would represent less than 1 percent of revenue for most of those eight companies. The report concluded that implementing such a fee was a useful tool and deterrent. In addition to its revenue potential for the government, a fee would encourage companies to institute BAT and thus reduce its fees. They argued, therefore, that any fee be higher than the cost of installing BAT. In addition to the implementation of the discharge fee "as is instructed by Article 9A of the Law for Pollution Prevention from Land-Based Resources," Zalul recommended using the fee money "to create a fund to protect and improve the coastal environment." It also suggested that the permit committee "demand from those requesting a permit to discharge into the sea to invest a reasonable percentage of their yearly earnings in [BAT] requirement as part of the condition for permit issuance." The Environmental Protection Ministry responded in a statement that "the committee for issuing permits has incorporated a BAT principle for years in the framework of issuing permits which accords with the law to prevent sea pollution from land-based sources." It added that "a draft regulation on the topic of 'a discharge fee' was prepared and circulated about a month ago for comments to the relevant government ministries and environmental organizations. In the coming month, the draft will be sent for approval to the Justice and Finance ministries in preparation for approval by the Knesset." The most recent comptroller report concluded that the ministry was very slow in collecting fines for pollution. In its defense, the ministry has continually cited its small budget and lack of sufficient manpower. Also, ministry director-general Shai Avital told the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee recently, the ministry was still reeling from the political appointments scandal under MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) and was scared of its own shadow even though most of the appointees had been removed already.