Think global, act local
A few months ago, a conference on environmental issues was held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. The session on air pollution was attended by the mayors of Tel Aviv and Holon ¬ Ron Huldai and Motti Sasson, respectively. They both complained that they are unable to act to improve the situation because it is not within their realm of authority, and they blamed government officials for tyrannizing mayors. The air pollution session was moderated by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), one of the heads of the Knesset's environmental-social lobby.
In recent months Khenin has been at the forefront of pushing legislation that would deprive mayors of using a lack of authority as an excuse for doing nothing. It all began with giving mayors the authority to act in planning transportation in their municipalities to prevent vehicular pollution.
Last week marked another achievement in expanding environmental jurisdiction in local authorities. The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, chaired by Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz, approved for submission to both second and third readings a law with far-reaching significance for the realm of enforcing laws for the protection of the environment. Tomorrow the Knesset plenum might well give its final approval to the Environmental Enforcement Law Khenin initiated.
The main aim of this law is to delegate authority to wardens in the local authority. It could result in a significant increase in activity in an area the state comptroller found to be lacking a mere two weeks ago. Currently, local authority inspectors are unable to enforce environmental laws. The new legislation will authorize them to do so.
They will be able to demand an individual's ID and any other information they may require to enforce the law.Municipal inspectors will be able, among other things, to enter places such as factories suspected of polluting the environment, carry out investigations and confiscate items connected to violations. They will be able to request a search warrant from a court.The authority to file an indictment will remain in the hands of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
"The Environmental Protection Ministry has always complained that it does not have the funds for more effective enforcement, while the local authorities complained that they had neither budgets nor authority," Khenin said last week. "The new law grants municipal inspectors authority and sets up an enforcement activity in the form of fines that will be transferred to the coffers of the local authority. We do not expect that the municipalities will volunteer to act on environmental enforcement, which is why this mechanism was created, to provide an incentive for action."
To prevent a situation whereby a local authority contents itself with leveling low fines for polluters, in order to avoid entering into conflict with them, the law stipulates that the Environment Ministry will have the power to intervene at any stage.
The State Comptroller's Report, published two weeks ago, showed a significant drop in the number of investigative files and violation reports opened at the Ministry of Environmental Protection. It also emerged that in many of the cases in which fines were imposed, the Ministry did not collect the money.
Now the local authorities will have to confront many challenges when it comes to the environment. It will be interesting to see how mayors like Sasson and Huldai will use the powers they have been afforded. One of the main challenges will be to deal with illegal waste disposal and construction waste.
Another challenge worth mentioning concerns enforcing the law that prohibits vehicles from traveling along the seashore. Anyone who happens to pass by beaches, like those north of Tel Baruch in Tel Aviv, on a weekend can testify how this law is violated on a grand scale, by dozens and sometimes hundreds of vehicles parked unimpeded along the shore, destroying the beautiful gravel ridge that overlooks the sea. Everyone who believes the shoreline should be preserved will rejoice at the sight of municipal wardens sliding down the gravel slope on their way to issue an abundance of tickets to drivers who are too lazy to walk for a few minutes to the parking lots situated along the beach.
Why it is hard to breathe in Ashkelon
Yet another power station fueled by coal is slated to be built in Ashkelon, whose inhabitants are concerned about the effects on their health. A health survey, carried out in recent years, aimed to examine the link between air pollution and the number of hospital visits following respiratory disorders.
According to an expert at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, the poll's findings, which show a correlation between an increase in pollution and a rise in the number of hospital patients, reinforce the Health Ministry's concerns about building an additional power station. However, according to a source familiar with the research, its findings indicate that the coal-fueled power station is not a major source of pollution; therefore one cannot attribute the rise in the number of people seeking medical treatment to its activity.
According to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), it has not received a copy of the survey's findings. With regard to the existing power station, the IEC claims that 95 percent of the time, the concentrations of sulfur oxides (one of the pollutants measured) are far lower than the level permitted by the Israeli standard. Moreover, most of the respiratory particles (which enter the respiratory system and contain various sorts of pollutants) measured in the Ashkelon area do not originate at the power station. Studies conducted abroad have shown that these particles are the main factor responsible for illnesses related to air pollution. According to the IEC, the existing power station as well as the planned power station will decrease air pollution by 70 percent in the future, which will result in an additional improvement in the air quality in Ashkelon.