Ministry fails to enforce environment laws

The Environmental Protection Ministry has been woefully lax in enforcing environmental laws on the books, the state comptroller wrote.

environment danger 29888 (photo credit: Channel 10)
environment danger 29888
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The Environmental Protection Ministry has been woefully lax in enforcing environmental laws on the books, the state comptroller wrote. The comptroller looked at three of the ministry's responsibilities - preventing illegal dumping of construction waste, administering the recycling of plastic bottles, and collecting fines and prosecuting violators. In all three categories, the ministry was found to be deficient. Nearly all construction waste is being dumped in open spaces or on the sides of roads, rather than in the specified areas or, even more ideally, recycled, the comptroller found during its probe, which lasted much of 2007. In 2006, just 14 percent of construction waste was recycled in comparison with percentages that ranged from 35% to 90% in western European countries. Israel produces 7.5 million tons of construction waste per year and 5.7 million tons of household waste. The comptroller traced the implementation of a government decision from 2003 which ordered that the subject be dealt with and found that it took years to fully implement all of the aspects. Some aspects had not been implemented until late 2007, nearly four years after the government had reached its decision to act. For example, from 2003 to 2008, just one new site in the north for dumping construction waste had been proposed. The report strongly urged the ministry to prepare a comprehensive enforcement plan to prevent illegal dumping, which is destroying Israel's open spaces and generating much pollution. Regarding recycling bottles and collecting fines, the comptroller found in both cases that the polluter was getting off easy - as most fines are never collected and few indictments are actually brought to trial. Also, every year, when the recycling company could not meet its original quota, the ministry authorized the smaller amount without charging the company. Had the ministry done what it was supposed to, which was to charge the company twice the value of each bottle not returned (i.e. NIS 0.50), it should have collected about NIS 275 million from 2002-2006. Instead, the final amount was reduced by NIS 216.5 million. The comptroller also wrote that the ministry fund responsible for ensuring a clean Israel had used almost none of the funds budgeted to it for its activities. The fund used just NIS 1.3 million of its NIS 21.5 million budget in 2005, yet ran up a debt of NIS 50 million that year. "The polluter pays" should be enforced upon importers and distributors of drinks, the comptroller concluded, and a means to recycle bottles should be made more accessible to the public as well. Regarding fines, the ministry had failed to collect the vast majority of them over the years, while indictments often had to be dropped because too much time had passed to act upon them. The comptroller concluded that deterrence was being seriously weakened and those who actually had to pay the fines were treated unequally because so many others had gotten away with it. Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chair Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) called the ministry a joke in light of the report. 'The Environmental Protection Ministry has turned into a joke and the big polluters in this country are celebrating. The comptroller's report reveals complete anarchy and a series of failures on a scale as yet unseen in environmental enforcement. The serious findings are a result of a planned campaign to undermine the Environmental Protection Ministry and we mustn't be misled into thinking this is a local failure," Paz-Pines said in a statement. In response to the report, the ministry said it "is studying the report and will act to implement its decision." Regarding enforcing fines and sentences, the ministry said it had passed over 10,000 files to the company tasked with collections. It added that it was determining the status of old files and once completed would pass on more files. The ministry added that it had presented and approved six district master plans for dealing with construction waste between 2001-2006. The ministry also said it had supported solutions financially. However, the ministry admitted that, despite this, the creation of solutions had not proceeded apace. The ministry also said it was in discussions with the Finance Ministry to include criteria in government tenders requiring the use of recycled building waste.