Gabbay: Haifa Bay residents have the right to breathe clean air.
Aiming to bring about dramatic change to the Haifa Bay region’s air quality, Environmental Protection Ministry officials are promoting a plan they say would significantly reduce both industrial and vehicular emissions in and around the city.

“Haifa Bay residents have the basic right to breathe clean air,” Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay said. “We are propelling an action plan accompanied by an appropriate budget in order to realize their rights.”

Gabbay and a team of ministry professionals presented the terms of a National Action Plan for the Haifa Bay Area at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, emphasizing the urgency in tackling the existing air pollution problems that plague Haifa and the surrounding towns. In addition to setting specific targets for emissions reductions at industrial facilities, the plans call for the establishment of the country’s first official Low Emission Zone (LEZ), in which heavy vehicular traffic is limited in a particular zone to European standards.

The Environment Ministry has amassed a NIS 330 million budget for the project, and will bring the plan for public commentary in about two weeks, Gabbay explained. Although the plan was developed in constant coordination with the Haifa Municipality, the Health Ministry and other relevant government bodies, the project still must receive the cabinet’s okay – an approval Gabbay said he hopes to obtain in September.

The project in the Haifa region could also serve as a model for such plans in other Israeli cities with problematic pollution levels, such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, added Environmental Protection Ministry director-general David Lefler.

Presenting the particular details of the plan, the minister first turned to the industrial component, which focuses on halving factory emissions by 2018. To accomplish this goal, Gabbay said that new emissions targets would be determined for 26 factories, as well as for the region’s oil refineries. Also critical would be providing incentives for plants to use natural gas in place of heavy fuel oil, he continued.

Ministry inspectors would increase the frequency of their visits to the area’s factories, as well as perform more spot checks of chimney emissions, according to the plan. The ministry would also expand its air pollution monitoring system to include additional pollutants, Gabbay added. Ultimately, he said, the changes would achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2018, in comparison to 2009.

Environmental Protection Ministry deputy director-general Shuli Nezer stressed the ministry’s commitment to stand by the reduction targets via strict enforcement against those factories that violate the terms. Although acknowledging that “industry can be next to populations,” Nezer explained that this can only happen when using the best available technology.

“It’s right that there will be industry there… but clean industry that meets European standards,” she added.

As far as transportation is concerned, Gabbay advocated the creation of the LEZ, in which a portion of the Haifa region would join hundreds of European cities that already limit the operation of diesel trucks and buses in specifically determined areas.
“Haifa will be the first [Israeli] city with a Low Emission Zone,” he said.

While ministry officials are still in talks on the subject with Haifa Municipality representatives, the LEZ will likely be located in the Ha’atzmaut Road area, Nezer added.

Also in the transportation sector, the National Action Plan for the Haifa Bay Area would enable the subsidy of pollution reduction devices for heavy vehicles, as well as convert municipal garbage trucks to run on natural gas, Gabbay explained. The project would also involve a pioneer project for buses to operate on gas, would see to the installation of emissions reduction mechanisms at fueling stations and would decrease pollution emanating from ships docked at Haifa Port, he said. In addition, the plan would aim to redirect traffic flow to the Carmel Tunnels, by lowering toll fees by about 40 percent.

In the hazardous materials sector, Gabbay stressed the importance of evacuating the bay’s 12,000-ton ammonia container, which for years the region’s residents have identified as a danger to both security and public health. In June, Environmental Protection Ministry and Finance Ministry officials announced the tender for the establishment of a new ammonia plant in the South.

The minister also discussed the need to perform a comprehensive research study of the various hazardous material risks in Haifa Bay, as well as specifically find a solution to the fuel tankers of the state-owned Petroleum & Energy Infrastructures Ltd. company. As it stands today, residents have been objecting to a Northern Lands Project, which involves the evacuation of existing oil tanks in favor of residences in Kiryat Haim, Kiryat Tivon and Haifa Port and the construction of new tanks in a 60-hectare plot east of Israel Oil Refineries.

Also involving hazardous materials, Gabbay said the project would focus on completing the cleanup of the formerly heavily polluted Kishon River, as well as establishing a metropolitan park, planned along its banks. He stressed that the ministry would remain sensitive to concerns regarding the potential refining of oil condensate from the Leviathan natural gas reservoir, ensuring that doing so does not further pollute the area.

Some final elements of the project involve increasing the depth and frequency of environmental surveys and research conducted in the region, as well as constant delivering information to members of the public, the minister said. The ministry would publish quarterly progress reports about the project’s status, increase accessibility to information and realize ideas formulated in collaboration with residents, he added.

“When there is transparency, you cannot hide anything,” Gabbay said.