MKs drag feet on clean air bill

Nearly a year after the Clean Air Act passed its first reading, a committee is still preparing the bill for a final vote.

air pollution 88 (photo credit: )
air pollution 88
(photo credit: )
It took the Knesset nearly a decade to decide that Israel needed clean air legislation and five years to draft a preliminary bill. Now, nearly a year after the plenum passed a first reading of the Clean Air Act, the Knesset Committee on the Interior and the Environment is still preparing the bill for its final vote. "This bill would completely revolutionize the way in which air pollution in Israel is controlled," said a spokeswoman for the Environment Ministry at a committee meeting Tuesday. Currently, air pollution is regulated by a series of laws, regulations, business licenses, and personal decrees that often contradict one another. In addition, the responsibility to regulate air pollution is mandated to a number of government ministries, none of which are currently required to report to one another. For example, the Environment Ministry created legislation that required vehicles to be spot checked, or issued random checks on their pollution levels in 2004. Those checks, however were never implemented and eventually vetoed by the Transportation Ministry. Last month, the Environment Ministry published its 2006 report on air quality in Israel. The report found that 46 percent of factories did not adhere to air pollution standards in 2006. While figures represented a 20% drop from the previous year, it revealed the ongoing problem with factory emissions in Israel. At the time of the report a number of lawmakers and government officials swore that they would create a uniform code of laws that would set out clear industry emissions standards and establish harsh penalties for factories that failed to meet those standards. Former MK Omri Sharon (Likud) created the Clean Air Act, which would accomplish exactly those goals. The act creates a country-wide standard to regulate and control air pollution through a series of regular checks of air quality. In addition to periodical checks of factories, the act also requires that information about air quality be made public. But despite the resounding calls for such a law, including a petition that was signed by over 40 MKs, interest in the Clean Air Act has dwindled and fallen to the shoulders of one MK, Dov Henin (Hadash). The Knesset's Committee on the Interior and the Environment, headed by MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) was charged with preparing the law for a second and third reading in the Knesset. A spokeswoman for the committee said that due to the complexity of the law, Paz-Pines asked Henin to create a subcommittee that would meet solely on the issue of the Clean Air Act. Over the past several months, Henin has convened officials from half a dozen ministries, and leading environmental lobbies to discuss the bill. Most often, he is the only Knesset member in the room. When changes to the bill are suggested, he is the only MK present to vote in favor or against the changes. If the Clean Air Act is passed, it would cost millions of shekels to implement. It would affect industries ranging from infrastructure, development, mining and manufacturing, and private citizens who own cars or air conditioners. Despite those broad implications, however, few MKs are aware of the law, and fewer still have taken part in the debate.