Justice Minister Rules Defense Required to Pay Pollution Fines

Landmark decision is a win for Environmental Protection Ministry.

The defense establishment may be fined if it violates environmental protection laws, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said in a landmark ruling.

The minister had been asked to arbitrate between the Environmental Protection Ministry and the defense establishment on the matter.

Over the past year, the Environmental Protection Ministry has been promoting a bill to prevent asbestos-related hazards. The bill, currently being discussed in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, places strict limitations on the import and use of asbestos, and calls for cleaning up asbestos currently in use, and sets fines of up to NIS 200,000 for violations.

In the discussions over the bill, the defense ministry claimed it cannot be fined by the Environmental Protection Ministry, since this would mean the ministry was reallocating government budgets.

The Environmental Protection Ministry argued it needed a way to make sure the state abides by the bill. This is not a matter of reallocating a budget, since the legislators have committed the state to allocate resources to prevent asbestos hazards, it said.

The ministry also said that while state officials cannot be put to trial for violating the law, there is no reason why financial sanctions shouldn't be used against the state.

Neeman sided with the Environmental Protection Ministry, noting financial sanctions were the best way to push authorities to meet their obligations. If the authorities abide by the law, Neeman wrote, they will not be fined and the defense establishment's claims of reallocating budgets would not be relevant.

The IDF Spokesman's office said in response that the army is a full partner in the legislative process over asbestos, due to its commitment to abide by the law and protect the country's environment.

"The working plan being drafted by the army ensures adherence to strict standards in all aspect of environmental protection," it said.