Environmental Protection Ministry: Organization’s claims are ill-researched.

As beach season officially opens on Thursday, the environmental organization Zalul released a new report charging that Israeli seaside industries are “paid to pollute” rather than paying for their pollution.

In Zalul’s 50-page, “State of the Sea 2013” report, the organization examines whether the sea pollution tax imposed upon industries by the Environmental Protection Ministry lives up to all of its goals, and whether the tax properly reflects the damage that these companies cause to the marine environment.

The report’s main conclusion is that the tax fails to reach two of its main objectives – the tax is too low in comparison to the damages the industries inflict upon the sea, and it provides little incentive for companies to curb their sewage discharge.

“We must update the tax, require external supervision and use tax funds for hazard monitoring and rehabilitation,” a statement from Zalul said.

The report finds that the taxes on the oil refineries in Haifa – the complex that pumps the largest amount of pollution into the sea – amount to only about NIS 60,000 per year, or about NIS 4,000 per month. The Hod Hefer slaughterhouse, which pumps brines containing both blood and fats into the sea and is one of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses, pays only about NIS 4,000 annually, the report finds.

The report also takes a look at the Shafdan sewage treatment facility, “the biggest polluter of the eastern Mediterranean.”

Zalul criticizes the firm – as well as government officials – for allowing the Shafdan to be exempt from the taxes for the year 2012 while the company was developing new technologies to curb discharge needs.

Each year, industrial plants, power plants, desalination facilities, slaughterhouses and hospitals bring billions of cubic meters of waste into the Mediterranean Sea through discharge permits provided by an inter-ministerial committee.

The taxes derived from these sources are then transferred to a Marine Pollution Prevention Fund under the Environmental Protection Ministry each quarter, amounting to approximately NIS 6 million per year for use by the ministry’s marine and coastal division, the report explains.

The marine and coastal division, however, spends only about NIS 2.5 million each year on its sea monitoring, checking and supervision tasks, according to the report.

Zalul therefore argues in the report that a number of changes should be made to heighten the effectiveness of the sea polluter tax.

First and foremost, the organization suggests a gradual increase in the tax figures, so that the industries will seek out alternative technologies that allow for discharge minimization, the report says.

The additional tax funds received by the ministry could be used toward the development of such technologies.

In addition, the organization recommends that, before they can receive their permits, industrial sea polluters be required to hire external consultants who will evaluate their discharge practices and suggest alternatives.

Another similar option would be establishing a unit within the ministry that focuses on technological alternatives to sea discharge, the report adds.

A final recommendation from Zalul is that the proceeds of the tax be used entirely for facilitating the monitoring and restoration of marine ecosystem damage that has occurred over the years.

In response to the report, the Environmental Protection Ministry said that Zalul did not check facts carefully enough before publishing the statements.

While Zalul complains that the tax does not pay directly for the development of more advanced technologies, in reality the Discharge Permit Committee has adopted more stringent measures and only provides permits to firms working with such technologies, the ministry said.

The exact amount of the tax is the result of broad economic work, using parallel projections throughout the world and based on the principle that firms discharging contaminated sewage will pay more and those dumping purified wastewater will pay little, the ministry noted. For example, a sewage treatment facility in Herzliya pumps discharge into the sea that is suitable for irrigation, so this plant pays relatively low surcharges.

The ministry also slammed Zalul for claiming that industries around Israel are dumping billions of cubic meters worth of sewage into the sea each year, when the majority of discharge is cooling water from power plants that hardly contains any contaminants.

Regarding the Shafdan specifically, the ministry stressed that as of April 20, the sewage treatment plant will be paying taxes that are expected to reach NIS 15 million to 18m. annually.

Regardless of the discharge situation, the country’s seas, meanwhile, will officially open to bathers for the season on Thursday, with 140 beaches welcoming visitors along the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and Lake Kinneret, the Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday.