Clean Air Act set to become law despite Ezra's objections

Bill calls for giving Environmental Protection Ministry authority to set emission limits.

reading smokestack298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
reading smokestack298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Three years after it was approved for a first reading, the Clean Air Act gained approval for a second and third reading Thursday at the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. It is expected to go before the plenum in a month to be enacted into law. The bill calls for a national plan of action to fight air pollution through measures such as granting the Environmental Protection Ministry authority to set emission limits. It also aims to bring order to the hodgepodge of laws which currently constitute Israel's air pollution policy. However, Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra objected to the bill arguing that it was unclear and his ministry lacked the manpower to enforce it. He implored the committee to delay voting on the bill until a later date. Ezra also requested that the implementation of the law be pushed off until January 1, 2011. After he rejected a compromise proposal of July 2010, the committee voted to keep the original implementation date of January 2010. In response to the committee's denial of his request to delay voting, Ezra said he would implore the Ministers' Legislative Committee to vote against the bill during its Sunday meeting. He also said he would appeal to the Knesset's legal adviser to declare Thursday's vote invalid. Committee member Ophir Paz-Pines rebuked Ezra. "As someone who is .. a guest on this committee for the first time after 17 five-hour meetings, I am asking you not to hinder our efforts. We can't remake the bill now. If the price is that one clause is not understood - that's better than waiting another three years," he said. Paz-Pines also praised the MKs for standing up to political pressure in choosing to reject Ezra's request. "The public can rejoice that the Clean Air Act has cleared a critical hurdle. The MKs did not bow down to political pressure and it is a shame that the government was not on the right side today and didn't support the bill," he said. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense also lashed out at Ezra's stance. "It is a sad day for Israel to see an environmental protection minister leading the campaign against the bill, nevertheless we praise the committee for its vote," a spokesmen said. Five committee members voted in favor of proceeding with the bill: committee chair Paz-Pines (Labor), Dov Henin (Hadash), Moshe Gafni (UTJ), Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), and Yossi Beilin (Meretz). Kadima's Shlomo Molla and Michael Nudelman voted against it. Henin said that "the Israeli public deserves real protection from air pollution. The time has come that Israel too has advanced legislation which will protect the public's health." He also expressed hope that the government would not object to the law, but rather adopt it as part of an effective system of environmental protection. Ezra said his request for a delay was the responsible decision as a minister. "The law demands a lot of manpower from the Environmental Protection Ministry which the Treasury is not willing to allocate. I am asking for a delay as the responsible thing to do as a minister and not for populist reasons."