A tourist looking out over smog-covered Jerusalem (Olivier Fitoussi)
A tourist looking out over smog-covered Jerusalem. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The Environmental Protection Ministry will now have the authority to place stricter limits on emissions from industrial plants and motor vehicles, according to a new law going into effect today.

While ministry officials view the new law as an important tool in improving air quality, representatives of the Israeli industrial sector say it will not serve to substantially limit pollution and will merely create a bureaucracy that will harm their businesses.

Industrial plants that have the potential to emit high levels of air pollution will be required to obtain a permit, which will limit their maximum emissions. The permit requirement will be implemented in stages.

As part of the first phase, set to take place over the next three months, metal producers and processors will be required to apply for permits.

The ministry will also impose a levy on manufacturing plants, designed to reflect the level of damage emissions are permitted to cause the environment. In addition, the ministry will now be authorized to impose stiff fines on those facilities that exceed pollution limits.

The new law also empowers the Environmental Protection Ministry to designate certain areas as polluted zones and to require local authorities to implement plans to reduce pollution.

For the first time, the statute also empowers the ministry to act against motor vehicle pollution and set new emission standards for annual auto inspections tests. Motor vehicles are currently the leading cause of air pollution in most of the country, though the ministry added that in some locations - such as Ramat Hovav in the south and in the Haifa Bay - industrial pollution is still a major problem.

The Manufacturers Association's legal adviser for environmental affairs, Arie Neiger, said the new law will not significantly prevent industrial pollution.

"Before this law was passed, the ministry had the authority, through its business licensing activities, to impose conditions preventing pollution," he said. "What is being added now is a bureaucracy of permits which will turn into a heavy burden for the plants."

Neiger added that the new requirements, including the conducting of surveys and the payment of certain fees, are liable to cause small industrial businesses to close. He also warned that the new provisions could lead companies with large plants to decide to relocate to other countries.

Shuly Nazar, who heads the air quality division at the Environmental Protection Ministry, rejected Neiger's arguments, contending that the law only applies to the country's 150 largest plants, which together emit more than 80% of the industrial pollution in Israel.

Nazar added that the new law is based on European pollution regulations and that prior legislation in Israel was not sufficiently effective. The new law, she explained, will enable the ministry to require plants to use the best technology available and to create transparency, allowing the public to see what sort of air pollution the plants are applying for permission to create.