Knesset to open issue of second coal-burning power plant in Ashkelon for public debate

MKs slam decision to approve Ashkelon coal plant.

Following the Interior Ministry's Committee for National Infrastructures's approval of two weeks ago of a second coal-burning power plant for Ashkelon, the ministry will throw open the decision for public comment, Interior Ministry Planning Administration head Shamai Asif said Sunday. "Anyone with an interest in the matter is invited to submit their criticisms within the next 60 days, an investigator will be appointed to evaluate them and will submit a report and we will go from there in deciding the future of the plant," he said. The ranking members of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee have slammed the committee's decision to build the plant. "We are the only Western nation where greenhouse gas emissions are rising," committee chair Ophir Paz-Pines said. "The government is acting as though we live on another star," Hadash MK Dov Henin said. Henin is one of the heads of the social-environmental lobby at the Knesset. The need for more power in Ashkelon was demonstrated to the committee by academic expert Prof. Uri Dayan. He said private use has risen 150 percent in the last decade, despite a population increase of just 40%. The Israel Electric Company said they would finish upgrading all 10 power plants in Israel by 2017 at a cost of over $1.5 billion. Meanwhile, The Israel Union for Environmental Defense and Green Course has petitioned the Supreme Court against the Interior Ministry Committee claiming it did not sufficiently take into account a government directive to weigh the air pollution produced by and environmental impact of such a plant. The Health Ministry's office in Ashkelon has reported a direct connection between pollution from coal-burning plants and health problems in the local population. A ministry representative told the Knesset committee Sunday that very conservative estimates predicted a 5-10% rise in clinic visits for cardiac and breathing-related problems. At the end of the meeting, it was decided that there was room for improvement in the make-up of the National Infrastructures Committee to give more weight to health issues, local authorities and academia in its decisions. The Knesset committee decided to put together a bill to do just that after an in-depth investigation of the issue.