Environmental Protection Chief: State Is Israel's Biggest Polluter

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan presented plans for improving the ministry's ability to enforce the law.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), who is just completing his first year in the post, presented plans Tuesday for one of his most important goals: Improving the ministry's ability to enforce the law.

Erdan presented new regulations and procedures which will significantly shorten the process required for dealing with environmental criminals.

Erdan also set for himself and his ministry a number of other major goals, including raising the percentage of waste recycled and preparing Israel for the global climate crisis. In setting out his goals, Erdan has created a broad base of targets, but is likely to run into many difficulties along the way to keep his promises.

"I promised zero tolerance toward polluters, including the largest [polluter] in Israel: the state," Erdan declared Tuesday. He explained that various governmental authorities, including the Israel Defense Forces, are causing the most widespread pollution. The IDF's problems include improperly treated sewage and asbestos.

Erdan presented figures demonstrating how the ministry significantly expanded its enforcement actions last year. It double the number of equipment seizures from environmental violators, and also began enforcing the law limiting noise levels in event halls. Erdan said the ministry also ordered the cleanup of the beach in Herzliya, and has forced the IDF to improve its approach to environmental issues. The IDF and the Golan Regional Council have just signed an agreement that will enable the treatment of sewage from IDF bases, which now flows into Lake Kinneret.

At the same time, Erdan admitted that the ministry's enforcement efforts can sometimes last years. "This harms our deterrence, as the courts tend to go easy when cases have been dragging on for years," he said.

The ministry's deputy director general for enforcement, Yitzchak Ben David, accused the State Prosecutor's Office of not allowing mayors who are responsible for environmental violations to be taken to court.

The Justice Ministry spokesman issued the following response: "The State Prosecutor's Office views effective enforcement of environmental crimes as very important, and is acting in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry. Nonetheless, it is clear that every case is dealt with based on the circumstances and the evidence."

The new procedures will require enforcement actions to be completed within 12 months. During this period, the ministry is supposed to complete its administrative enforcement process for a criminal action. No one will be allowed to exceed this time limit, and if they do they will be required to provide explanations, said Erdan.

Erdan did admit that his ministry has not received a significant number of new personnel or increased budgets in order to carry out the dramatic improvements he has promised, but he claimed that such improved efficiency was still possible.

Recycling and climate change

Another major target for the ministry is increasing recycling. Erdan has also managed to bring an amendment to the Deposit Law for approval in only six months - considered lightning speed in Israeli legislation. The new law will expand the bottle collection system; but it achieved this by reaching a compromise with drink manufacturers, who had been heavily criticized by environmental groups. The groups claimed Erdan had lowered recycling targets for the manufacturers.

A complementary proposal will require recycling of two-thirds of all packaging materials. A draft version of this law has already been prepared.

Erdan can also take credit in the sphere of preparing Israel for world climate change. At the recent climate conference in Copenhagen, Israel presented a commitment to reduce its rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.