Gilad Erdan
Gilad Erdan. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan is going after polluters with heavy fines and other actions. He is also pushing new laws to make Israeli industry, transportation and energy production greener. Erdan also thinks it is necessary to expand the authority of his ministry to better enforce the new rules.

"I am about to issue closure orders against four companies in the metals industry, who did not file full requests by March 1 [2011] to receive licenses to discharge into the atmosphere according to the Clean Air Law," said Erdan. These include the Dead Sea Magnesium Works and the metal recycling plant in Ramat Hovav south of Be'er Sheva, he said in an interview in advance of today's Environment 2020 Convention at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv.

The latest environmental legislation requires companies to submit requests for pollution permits, and the metals industry was the sector chosen by the ministry to be the first to meet the new regulations. The final date for the applications was set for March 1. All such companies operating in Israel submitted the necessary requests on time - except for two. Two others submitted incomplete paperwork.

Erdan leafed through the forms in his office yesterday morning during the interview, and said he had no intention of going easy on the four companies, which had already been informed they must meet the new requirements completely. He said he is taking a "no tolerance" stand against polluters, and the operating rule is "the polluter pays."

"This starts with licenses and ends with fines for excessive pollution," said Erdan.

The neglect of Israel's environment has induced Erdan to act vigorously, including passing new laws and writing new regulations - and enforcing them immediately. Erdan's steps also include serious punishments in financial terms. This has stirred up quite a bit of resistance and uproar among industrialists, who say they are having difficulty adjusting to all the changes.

Meeting the new rules will be difficult in the near term for industry, especially small and medium-sized businesses, said Nir Kantor, head of the Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Environmental Society in the Manufacturers' Association. "The industry will act as required, but it is all a matter of schedules and of different interpretations of the legislation," he said. That is why the industry needs a 2-3 year time-out to prepare due to the high costs of buying gear, he said.

Erdan thinks industry has had enough time to get ready as the new regulations have been in the pipeline for a long time, and the industry was very involved and aware of the process.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tel Aviv has already paid a NIS 40,000 fine and the Paz Oil company was fined NIS 120,000 after the law on hazardous materials went into effect in June 2010. Now the ministry is demanding more fines from other lawbreakers, including a number of fines of over NIS 1 million. The new law expanded the ministry's ability to levy financial sanctions on anyone who deals with hazardous materials improperly, including doing so without a permit and without proper paperwork.

But the ministry still does not have a multi-year strategic plan in place, and if, for example, the government changes, there is no guarantee that environmental policy will not change. That is why a ministry committee is completing such a plan now.

Israel's entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development required the country to make a number of rapid changes in environmental matters to meet the organization's standards, which has made it much easier for Erdan to explain his demands for progress in the areas of industry, transportation and energy.

A number of major changes took effect in the past year to help make Israel "greener." For example, new financial reporting rules took effect last year, and companies now need to include lists of environmental risks and risk factors in their prospectuses and financial reports. In the past many companies did a "greenwash in their financial reports, presenting themselves as environmentally friendly - even if it was not really true," said Erdan.

Now, in cooperation with the Israel Securities Authority, there will be a standard method for reporting on exposure to environmental risks, which will increase transparency, he said. Erdan also says the National Infrastructure Ministry should be merged with his ministry.