Ministry rarely uses legal means at its disposal to enforce compliance with Israel’s anti-pollution laws, according to state comptroller’s report.
By Zafrir Rinat | May 6, 2015

Israel’s state comptroller’s office found that the Environmental Protection Ministry failed in its monitoring of industrial pollution. According to the comptroller’s report released on Tuesday, the ministry rarely uses the legal means at its disposal to enforce compliance with anti-pollution laws.

The findings deal with industries including those in the Haifa Bay area, substantiating claims by environmental groups that have focused protest there in recent weeks.

According to the Clean Air Law, which came into force about four years ago, the Environmental Protection Ministry is supposed to test emissions from smokestacks provided to it by the industries, and to take surprise sampling. The ministry provided funding to its district offices for the surprise testing, but not for follow-up on whether the testing was actually carried out. From 2011 to 2013, the surprise testing quotas in the districts fell below half of what was planned. In 2013, testing fell to 15 percent nationally and in the Haifa district no tests were carried out at all.

From August 2012 to January 2014, only half of the samples the industries are supposed to give the ministry from their smokestacks were actually provided; yet hardly any steps were taken against non-compliant industries according to the comptroller.

The comptroller also found that from 2012 to 2014, almost none of the ministry’s districts kept to the timetable for enforcement and criminal proceedings were rarely instituted.

An exception was the Haifa District, which from 2012 to 2014 handed over almost half of the investigations it conducted for criminal proceedings.

The Environmental Protection Ministry is also failing to provide information as required. The southern district, for example, monitors 147 smokestacks but data on only about one fifth of these was available in the ministry’s central database.

The ministry responded that it had prepared a nationwide plan to reduce air pollution, at a cost of 680 million shekels (around $174 million), but only received 100 million shekels. “Despite this, and thanks to energetic monitoring and enforcement, industrial pollution was reduced by dozens of percentage points. In the Haifa Bay area industrial pollution declined by 70 percent in six years and this trend will continue.”

Liora Amitai, co-director of Citizens for the Environment, said the comptroller’s report showed the authorities’ lack of coordination and that information was not being collected or publicized as required. “That is the reason the enforcement abilities of the ministry are near zero,” which allows industries to break the law, she added.