In the first two decades following its independence in 1948, Israel accorded high priority to intensive development programs. New towns were established, roads built, industries developed, agriculture expanded and water resources tapped. The rapid growth rate of population, urbanization, and industrial and agricultural output was a major cause of increasing degradation in environmental quality.
Until 1973, responsibility for the environment was divided among several ministries. No single agency was invested with the authority to coordinate environmental protection activities. In the early 1970s, several factors merged to prompt organized governmental involvement in environmental protectionpressure by nature protection bodies and scientists, concern over the eutrophication of Lake Kinneret and inadequate sewage treatment, and the universal reawakening to the need for environmental protection catalyzed by the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.
Within a year of the Stockholm Conference, the Israeli government established the Environmental Protection Service (EPS), first as part of the Prime Minister’s Office and later, within the Ministry of the Interior. The original mandate of the EPS granted it authority to advise ministries and planning bodies on environmental matters, design a system of environmental impact statements, submit an annual state-of-the-environment report to the government, collect and distribute environmental data, and prepare educational materials to increase environmental awareness.
The creation of the EPS in 1973 constituted the first step toward a comprehensive modern environmental administration in Israel. Among the most important achievements of the EPS during its formative years were the introduction of environmental considerations into the planning process, the appointment of environmental advisors to District Planning and Building Commissions and the establishment of environmental units in municipalities. Later achievements included the establishment of an inspection patrol for the prevention of marine pollution in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Eilat, updating and enforcement of the Maintenance of Cleanliness Law, regulation of air pollution from power stations and industrial plants, establishment of an air pollution monitoring system, initial introduction of environmental studies into the school curriculum, introduction of an environmental impact statement system, cooperation in international environmental activities, initial steps toward a national system for the collection and disposal of hazardous wastes, and establishment of two environmental funds (marine and cleanliness) which directly implement the "polluter pays" principle.