THE MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT

While the EPS proved effective in introducing environmental considerations into Israel’s decision-making and planning systems, it soon became clear that legal authority, enforcement powers, and concentration of responsibility were imperative for the development and implementation of a comprehensive, long-range environmental policy. In December 1988, following years of lobbying by environmentalists throughout the country, the government decided to establish a Ministry of the Environment. While questions of structure, budget, manpower, and authority have only been resolved recently, the very decision to establish the ministry constituted a positive change in the government’s determination to tackle environmental issues according environmental protection political legitimacy.

Shortly following its creation, all EPS authority was transferred to the new ministry; later, responsibility for several new environmental fields was transferred from other ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Defense, Industry and Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, and Health.

Environmental Policy

Basic to Israel’s environmental management program is a policy founded upon cooperation and integration between environmental protection and economic development. Given the rapid rate of development, the focus of environmental policy has always been on preventive measures, and the land-use planning process has provided an important administrative framework for implementing this policy.

Environmental policy has been rooted in the conviction that it is far more effective to identify potential environmental conflicts, simulate or forecast their extent or severity, and incorporate appropriate environmental management measures in the planning process. The required environmental measures are most frequently determined on the basis of ambient, emission and design standards derived from the results of national and international research. Standards for pollutants are revised and updated based on evolving research in economics, technology, health and agricultural effects. In addition, monitoring and inspection systems provide an up-to-date picture of the state of the environment, allow authorities to predict environmental trends, enable alert and response actions in cases of pollution episodes, and contribute to the development of pollution-abatement programs.

The goals of the Ministry of the Environment are to formulate a comprehensive national environmental policy and to develop the tools necessary for implementing this policy. The ministry seeks to incorporate environmental considerations into decision-making and planning processes; to implement programs for pollution control, monitoring and research; to develop and update legislation and standards; to ensure effective enforcement and supervision; to promote environmental education and awareness; and to advance regional and global cooperation on the environment.

Structure of the Ministry of the Environment

In order to promote more effective organization and optimal efficiency in the fulfillment of its goals, the Ministry of the Environment has recently undergone a major reorganization process, completed at the end of 1993. The administrative structure of the ministry is now based on professional staff units, divided into three groupings of responsibility and coordination, in addition to an administrative group. Some of the divisions are directly responsible to the director general (e.g. legislation, international affairs, planning), but the majority of professional divisions operate under the responsibility and coordination of three assistant director-generals.

Over the past year, the number of staff employed by the Ministry of the Environment has significantly increased from 226 in 1993 to 313 in 1994. Most of the additional manpower has been allocated to the regional level of the ministry, but professional staff have also been added to a number of divisions in the central office, most notably, environmental planning, hazardous substances, solid waste and inspection and patrol. Furthermore, the ministry’s budget, although still inadequate to meet the critical environmental needs of Israel, has been raised substantially in 1994. It now stands at $21 million (including the income generated by the marine pollution prevention and cleanliness funds), a 50% increase over the previous year.

The Ministry of the Environment operates according to the principle that the spatial-geographic dimension of an environmental problem dictates the organizational framework within which the problem is to be solved. Thus, a local problem falling within the domain of a specific local authority should be solved by that authority, using the planning, legal and technical means at its disposal. Where nuisances overlap local boundaries, regional solutions are sought. Issues of national scope are managed by the ministry, at a national level.

National Level

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, comprehensive national environmental policy and for developing specific strategies, standards and priorities for environmental protection.

The national level consists of over thirty divisions. Most of the divisions deal with the wide gamut of environmental subjects which are under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment; a few are concerned with public relations, interaction with citizens, internal auditing and administration.

The ministry is responsible for the following fields of activity: conservation of natural resources, pollution prevention including air, water and marine pollution; supervision of sewage treatment facilities and effluent use and disposal; hazardous substances and waste, including asbestos and radiation; industry and energy; pest surveillance and control; solid waste and maintenance of cleanliness; agro-ecology; noise abatement; environmental planning- -including operation of an environmental impact statement system; education and information; environmental legislation; business licensing;; research and surveys; environmental economics; and international affairs. The function of the ministry’s professional staff is to formulate national policy in each of these domains, define research priorities, create and update environmental standards, identify legislative needs, coordinate cooperation with other agencies, and guide the district and local levels in the implementation of national policy.

An important element in national environmental policy is inspection and control. To strengthen environmental law enforcement, the ministry has reinforced national inspection units in such areas as marine pollution, river monitoring and hazardous substances in the agricultural sector, and has established a national inspection patrol, which operates on the regional level. In recent years, the environmental patrol has focused on such neglected domains as solid waste disposal sites, littering, hazardous waste disposal, cleanliness in gasoline stations and illegal sign-posting along interurban roads.

The Ministry of the Environment also has ministerial responsibility for the National Parks Authority and for the Environmental Services Company, the government corporation formed in 1990 to operate the national site for the disposal and treatment of hazardous waste at Ramat Hovav.. The ministry bears partial responsibility for the Nature Reserves Authority, the Lake Kinneret Authority and the Water Commission.

District Level

The establishment of the district administration is an important innovation which was instituted following the creation of the Ministry of the Environment. The district administration provides a forum for close contact between local authorities and land-use planning authorities, as well as a link between the national staff and municipal units. The district offices Northern, Haifa, Central, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Southern coincide with the administrative boundaries established in the Planning and Building Law in order to facilitate administrative coordination with both planning authorities and the municipal sector. In the field of planning, the district offices provide environmental input and guidance on plans presented to the District Planning and Building Commissions. With respect to their municipal function, the district offices work closely with the local sector to identify environmental problems and promote solutions.

The district administration is charged with implementing national environmental policy. It generally includes a director and an ombudsperson, as well as experts in such fields as environmental planning, business licensing, agro-ecology, air, water and sewage, hazardous substances, solid waste, noise, education and information, and pest control. The district administration works in tandem with the national inspection patrol, formulates environmental conditions for the licensing of businesses, guides local environmental units and local authorities in the implementation of environmental policy, supervises municipal environmental activities and facilities (e.g. solid waste disposal sites and sewage treatment plants) and initiates and promotes environmental projects to solve regional problems.

Local Level

On the local level, local authorities serve as the implementing arm of the central government in carrying out environmental policy. Environmental services are generally provided by municipalities; the central government steps in only when overriding reasons exist for superseding the responsibilities of the municipality.

Municipalities are responsible for the following environmental services: environmental planning; development, operation and maintenance of environmental infrastructures such as sewage collection and disposal, drainage, and garbage collection and disposal; pest control; street cleaning; preservation of local parks, landscapes and archeological and historic sites; inspection and enforcement of industries and businesses; and monitoring of air, noise and drinking water.

Because municipal activities are so important to environmental protection, the Ministry of the Environment has vigorously advocated financial support and the provision of professional staff and technical and scientific equipment to the local government. To improve environmental services on the local level, local environmental units were established in 1977, under the administrative jurisdiction of their respective municipalities but under the professional authority of the Ministry of the Environment (and previously, its predecessor, the Environmental Protection Service). The major functions of local environmental units are: monitoring air and noise conditions; offering advice and expertise to municipal officials, particularly in the fields of sewage, solid waste and hazardous waste disposal; increasing public awareness of environmental issues through information campaigns and educational projects; receiving and acting upon complaints from the public; advising local planning authorities on the environmental effects of proposed development plans; reviewing and providing environmental advice on business license applications; acting as coordinators in the resolution of local environmental problems; recommending ways to improve local environmental conditions through legal and administrative measures; and increasing the level of public participation in local environmental decision-making. As the local environmental units evolved, each developed expertise in the fields most appropriate to the locality.

Since many environmental problems cross municipal borders, cooperation between local authorities is of utmost importance. The trend in the environmental administration is toward greater cooperation among local authorities in a variety of regional matters, such as waste disposal and treatment, sewage disposal and treatment, air pollution and noise. Several town associations for environmental quality have been established.

Today, 27 municipal environmental units and associations of towns for environmental quality operate throughout the country, serving the majority of Israel’s population. Of these, five environmental units were established in the Arab sector during the course of 1993. Another five local units are to be established during the course of 1994, two in the Arab sector. The addition of these and other units over the next few years will enable the remaining municipalities to be incorporated into the local environmental protection network.

Although municipal environmental units are not formally an integral part of the Ministry of the Environment, they are considered an extension of it. They are partially financed by the Ministry of the Environment; they receive professional guidance from the ministry; they consult with the ministry on matters of policy; and they supply the ministry with monitoring data.

Israel’s experience with municipal environmental units has proven them to be a most effective tool for linking national environmental policies with everyday operations on the local level. Their special placement within local authorities, and their participation in deliberations of Local Planning and Building Commissions enable them to keep abreast of all plans and to work toward the revision or prevention of projects likely to generate adverse environmental impacts. While there will always be a need for complementary action by the central government, municipalities’ growing sophistication in environmental management is expected to provide ever-increasing benefits to larger segments of the local population.