The Ministry of the Environment, established in December 1988, underwent major reorganization in 1993. The administrative structure of the ministry is now based on about 30 divisions; some directly responsible to the director general, most under the responsibility and coordination of three deputy directors general.
In 1994, the staff of the Ministry of the Environment increased to 313, up from 226 in 1993. The ministry’s budget, though still inadequate to meet all of Israel’s environmental needs, stands at $21 million, a 50% increase over the previous year.
The Ministry of the Environment operates on three different levels-national, regional and local. At the national level, the ministry is responsible for formulating an integrated national policy and for developing strategies, standards and priorities for environmental protection. The district level of the Ministry of the Environment coincides with the administrative boundaries established in the Planning and Building Law in order to facilitate administrative coordination with both planning agencies and the municipal sector. On the local level, local authorities serve as the implementing arm of the central government in carrying out environmental policy. Local environmental units, under the administrative jurisdiction of their respective municipalities but under the professional authority of the Ministry of the Environment, provide environmental services to the population. Today 27 local environmental units and associations of towns for environmental quality operate throughout the country, serving most of Israel’s population.
In developing its environmental management program, Israel used the land-use planning system established under the Planning and Building Law of 1965. The law establishes a comprehensive legislative framework which regulates all building and land use activities in Israel within a three-level hierarchy: national, regional and local. The incorporation of environmental considerations into the physical planning system began in the early 1970s with the introduction of an environmental advisor to the National Planning and Building Board. Today, 20 planners represent the Minister of the Environment at the national and regional levels of planning, while on the local level, environmental planners actively participate in an advisory capacity in the deliberations of local planning commissions. In large measure, due to their advice, outline schemes at the national, district and local levels now incorporate resource evaluation, technologically feasible alternatives and environmental impact assessment.
National outline schemes are prepared for land uses and projects of national significance. Environmental aspects are integrated into all relevant national schemes and, in some cases, they are the dominant considerations. Environmental considerations have played a major role in national outline schemes for power stations, airports, the Mediterranean coast, immigrant absorption, transportation, afforestation, and water, sewage and drainage.
In 1991, the preparation of a long-range masterplan (Israel 2020) to guide Israel’s development began. It aims to prepare comprehensive and non-statutory strategic documents which will form a framework for national plans for the next 30 years.
Representatives of the Minister of the Environment are statutory members of the district planning commissions and active participants in many subcommittees. They present environmental opinions to the planning commissions, discuss environmental objections during the plan approval process, identify plans and projects which require the preparation of environmental impact statements, and follow up on the fulfillment of instructions incorporated into the plan regulations. Planners from local environmental units or town associations for environmental quality participate in most local planning commissions in an advisory capacity.
One of the most important tools in the land-use planning process is the EIS, mandatory for certain projects since the promulgation of EIS regulations under the Planning and Building Law in 1982. The regulations specify four kinds of projects for which an EIS is obligatory: power stations, airports, ports and hazardous waste disposal sites. The regulations also urge the preparation of an EIS for several other projects. Any planning authority may require an EIS on any plan expected to have environmental implications, and every ministerial representative on the national or district planning level may require an EIS for any plan under discussion. ElSs are prepared in accordance with plan-specific guidelines prepared by the Ministry of the Environment to ensure that ElSs will be useful to decision makers. The developer is responsible for preparing an EIS in accordance with the guidelines. Experts at the ministry evaluate each EIS and issue an opinion which includes a summary of the main findings of the EIS, the ministry’s conclusions and recommendations to the planning authority. In almost all cases, the planning authority incorporates the recommendations of the ministry into its decision on the plan.
Over the years, there has been a constant rise in ElSs required by the planning agencies. From the time the system began operating until the end of 1993, 248 ElSs had been commissioned: 47 for roads and parking lots, 31 for waste disposal sites, 39 for industries, 29 for. quarries, 20 for power stations, 13 for ports or marinas; 15 for wastewater treatment, 16 for tourism, recreation and sports, and the remainder distributed among railway lines, water works, residential and commercial projects, public institutions, airports and landing grounds, and marine facilities.
Israel is considering widening its use of ElSs to encompass additional areas and specific industries. Ways are also being sought to incorporate environmental assessments at an earlier stage in the planning process, before the plan is submitted for approval.
The development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) has led to breakthroughs in the organization and analysis of geographical data for environmental purposes. The Ministry of the Environment’s Planning Division has been using the GIS as a planning tool since 1988 and has developed a GIS which currently contains over 20 layers of information for the country at an average scale of 1:50,000 meters. The first databases developed included a Mediterranean coast database, a national database on areas exposed to various types of environmental degradation and pollution, and a database on open spaces. Additional databases are being developed for several divisions of the ministry, including a database on solid waste disposal sites, on microbial and heavy metal monitoring stations along the Mediterranean coast, on the air pollution monitoring network, on noise contours, etc. To determine the feasibility of using satellite imagery as a source of data for land use and environmental pollution, two remote sensing projects using image processing of satellite imagery have been contracted by the Ministry of the Environment.