Outgoing environment minister admits much remains to be done

But ministry touts some success in crafting legislation and plans to combat pollution under Gideon Ezra's tenure.

gideon ezra environment minister 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gideon ezra environment minister 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Environmental Protection Ministry had some success in crafting legislation and plans to combat pollution under Gideon Ezra's three-year tenure as minister, but much is still in progress, according to a summary released by the ministry on Wednesday. Ezra, of the Kadima Party, held an end-of-term briefing on Wednesday morning. According to the 17-page summation by topic of the past three years, the ministry has been pushing ahead plans, regulations and legislation on all fronts. The ministry said it had pushed the green trend forward as it dealt with transportation pollution, construction and demolition waste, and passed the landfill levy, along with some other successes. But while the ministry brought several processes to fruition over the last three years, the summary makes it clear that much work still needs to be done. National plans to fight various types of pollution still need to be written, laws must be passed and regulations improved. The most recent comptroller's report cited the ministry's ineffectual enforcement efforts, which don't seem to have improved that much. For instance, no polluting factories have been shut down under Ezra's watch. Air pollution continues to be the ministry's top priority, as it was last year. Two years ago, the ministry managed to get the cabinet to make a decision to fight air pollution from vehicles and then subsequently created a national plan to combat it. According to the plan, which was crafted with the Transportation Ministry, both passenger vehicles and trucks are now required to adhere to Euro 5 emissions standards, the latest European standard. In addition, all vehicles over 20 years old will be scrapped and their owners compensated with NIS 3,000. The ministry has also expanded the network of air pollution monitors to cover more of the country. Nevertheless, the single biggest piece of legislation to fight air pollution, the Clean Air Act, won't go into effect until January 2011 because of Ezra's demand for more time to recruit and train staff to implement it. Ezra and the ministry have also been attempting to make government contracts more "green." The government is a huge employer and purchaser of various products. The ministry managed to get the government to consider the environmental impact of the products it buys and the contracts it signs. Such consideration would also encourage companies which make environment-friendly products, according to the summary. The ministry has also made a series of recommendations to offer tax breaks for green initiatives and products. One of Ezra's stated goals had been to reduce the threat to the public from hazardous materials. To that end, the ministry entered into agreements to rehabilitate parts of the Ramat Hovav Industrial Park, which processes much of the country's hazardous waste. The ministry also passed regulations to standardize the import and export of hazardous materials. During the Second Lebanon War, when missiles rained down on the North, hazardous materials sites were at risk. While none were hit during the war, the ministry formed a committee headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Herzl Shapir to look into the matter. The Shapir Committee has turned in its report and the ministry is studying it. Much of the ministry's work has revolved around bringing Israel up to the standards imposed by international treaties and organizations.The ministry has been working to bring Israel up to OECD environmental standards as part of the country's bid to join the organization. Israel will also likely be included in the new greenhouse gas emissions protocol set to be formulated at the end of 2009 and go into effect when the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012. In preparation, the ministry has begun compiling a national plan for dealing with climate change which will include specific national greenhouse gas emissions goals. Regarding ground contamination, Ezra worked out a deal during his tenure with the four major gas companies, Paz, Sonol, Delek and Dor Alon, to rehabilitate 450 gas stations that pollute the ground. The four companies have about 1,500 stations nationwide. Thus far, the companies have surveyed 110 stations and efforts have begun at 23, with another 20 to follow in the near future. The ministry highlighted specific successes in other areas. The ministry forced companies using products which emit non-ionizing radiation, such as electricity plants, communications installations and lasers, to obtain a permit before construction. Wedding halls were also forced to comply with new noise regulations. The IDF uses some 50% of Israel's land in one way or another and the ministry has begun stressing environmental protection within the army's ranks. They have begun training officers in environmental protection, as well as pushing for a map of damaged areas under IDF control, among other activities. Finally, in the educational realm, the current school year was declared a "green year" by the ministry and the Education Ministry. Pupils have been learning about the environment and doing related projects throughout the year.