THE ENVIRONMENT AND MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS
Environmental quality is not only a high priority national issue; it is a municipal matter. Environmental nuisances impact the local populace on a daily basis; the pressure to eliminate them must stem from the grassroots level. The extent of local authority involvement in environmental quality has increased significantly over the past decade.
Because municipal activities are so important to environmental protection, the Ministry of the Environment has vigorously advocated financial support, professional staff and the provision of technical and scientific equipment to local authorities. To improve the performance of municipalities, local environmental units were established within Israel’s municipalities in 1977, under the authority of the central environmental body. Since many environmental problems cross municipal border, the trend today is toward greater cooperation among local authorities in a variety of regional matters, including waste and sewage disposal and treatment, air pollution and noise. 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.
The Ministry of the Environment’s special concern for improved environmental protection in the local sector induced it to prepare a model environmental platform for the candidates in the recent municipal elections in November. The proposed platform enumerates the subjects and activities which should be included in the platform of the various parties. The Ministry of the Environment, along with other environmental bodies in Israel, has urged candidates and elected officials to read these suggestions carefully and to let their constituents know that they care about the environment and are committed to acting on its behalf not only before but more importantly, after the elections.
The proposal was sent to all candidates along with an accompanying letter by the Minister of the Environment and other documents prepared by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Public Council for the Preservation of Monuments and Sites. Especially noteworthy among these documents was a special information booklet printed on recycled paper by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Entitled "Local Interest," the booklet aims at helping neighborhood committees, candidates and elected officials learn about environmental issues. The "green manual" defines environmental quality, describes the nature of the environmental nuisances plaguing the country, presents means of establishing and operating local environmental action committees, features a 20-page guide to environmental legislation, teaches optimal ways of using the media as a tool for dealing with environmental problems, and includes a sample "nuisance card" (in which local environmental nuisances can be identified and sent to the action committee) and a directory of environmental bodies and the media.
Following is a summary of the major environmental issues to which elected municipal officials must relate during the election campaign and after election, based on the model platform prepared by the Ministry of the Environment.
A. Organization and Administration
Effective management of environmental problems requires administrative organization on the municipal level, coordination among neighboring local authorities and cooperation with national bodies.
1. Organization on the Local Level:
2. Organization on the Regional Level
Environmental protection requires regional cooperation. The successful operation of town associations for environmental quality proves that in certain environmental realms no other choice exists.
A local authority head plays a central role in the creation of spatial cooperation, designated to bring about improved waste collection, abatement of air pollution, mosquito extermination and prevention of industrial nuisances.
3. Organization on the National Level
It is the responsibility of the local authority head and municipal officials to do their utmost to focus the attention of government bodies on local environmental problems whose scope and significance are far-reaching. This may require the recruitment of national resources and budgets, the involvement of ministers and the contribution of national bodies, governmental and others. Examples include the relocation of government-owned industrial plants from residential areas to more distant localities, solutions to sewage or solid waste problems which require transport to outlying areas, enforcement of national laws and regulations, etc.
B. Specific Environmental Subjects
1. Water and sewage
Water supply and sewage treatment should be managed in an integrated manner. Special effort should be devoted to the long- range planning of water sources and their reclamation and to pipeline treatment. The authority should purify its industrial and domestic sewage and recycle effluents for agricultural use wherever possible. In public parks and gardens, priority should be accorded to vegetation requiring a minimum amount of watering. Special attention should be given to minimizing water loss from the water supply network and to the promotion of water conservation in domestic systems. In areas still lacking an approved sewage masterplan, top priority must be granted to this subject.
The sewage system should be transformed into a closed financial system. The authority should operate a wastewater treatment plant
(or see to its establishment if not yet in existence), and should be careful not to overload it with unreasonable amounts of sewage. It should monitor and control the plant’s operation and see to the maintenance of an aesthetic environment in its vicinity. It should prevent stench, sewage overflow, sewage infiltration to the ground and to groundwater and should eradicate mosquitos and other nuisances.
2. Solid waste and recycling
Waste recycling stands at the forefront of environmental issues. Successful recycling can significantly minimize the solid waste problem in Israel, but it is dependent on the separation and sorting of household waste.
The local authority should be responsible for the separation at source of domestic and urban waste components, including: paper, colored glass, transparent glass, aluminum, etc. The method of separation will be determined in accordance to economic considerations. Some of the profits of recycling should be invested in improving the waste collection and treatment system. The efficiency of the waste collection and transport systems can be maximized through the establishment of transfer stations and the use of a more modern vehicle fleet.
The local authority must implement government policy on the reduction of solid waste sites and must work, along with neighboring local authorities, toward its integration in a regional system of solid waste disposal to one of the central sites designated in the national plan.
In view of increased transport distances, the authority should prepare to reduce waste quantities and volume and to adopt such methods as separation at source, compaction and crushing. Means should be sought for compensating residents for waste reduction.
Until such time as all local dumps are eliminated, the authority should to maintain its landfills in accordance to the regulations
(daily cover, rinsing areas and drainage systems for the collection of rinsates, fencing of the entrance gate, general cleanliness of the site and of the approach routes, prevention of stench and fires, and supervision over incoming waste). A special effort should be made to do away with the rampant practice of discarding construction waste and scrap vehicles in the public domain through of the establishment of special sites. Such sites will be kept clean, fenced, and will include facilities for the collection of oils, fuels and other pollutants.
The authority should routinely collect yardwaste for the purpose of recycling. It should enforce the cleanliness law forbidding the disposal of waste in the public domain and should impose heavy fines on offenders.
3. Hazardous substances
The local authority plays a vital role in the enforcement of stringent safety procedures with regard to the storage, transport and proper use of hazardous substances. The local authority should take part in the inspection system over hazardous substances and for this purpose should implement its authority within the framework of the licensing of businesses law. To reduce potential risks, the local authority should restrict the transport of hazardous materials in its jurisdiction to specific roads in predetermined hours, by means of signs and the enforcement of laws and regulations.
4. Prevention of mosquito nuisances
The local authority should prevent mosquito and stench nuisances emanated from water ponds and should eradicate them by means of environmentally-friendly extermination methods.
5. Air and noise pollution
Air pollution originates from two primary sources: private vehicles and industrial plants (diesel-powered public transportation emits smoke and soot but not carbon monoxide and lead, which are more dangerous to health). The authority must prepare a workable plan for air pollution reduction, especially in residential areas. Potential pollution must be taken into account during road and traffic planning.
The local authority should encourage the use of public transportation, and should promote the establishment of parking areas at the city entrance. The local authority should conceal high pressure lines under the ground.
While industries are subject to high municipal taxes and serve as important sources of employment, their contribution to air pollution is significant. Municipal authorities must draw up comprehensive plans obligating industrial plants to uphold emission and air quality standards. Monitoring results are to be routinely publicized.
Licensing of new plants should be conditional on the ability of the plant to uphold environmental standards. Where necessary, environmental impact statements are to be required. The authority must work to immediately eliminate nuisances or potential industrial risks (e.g. armament and chemical plants ) from residential areas.
The same holds true for noise the local authority must use its clout to prevent noise nuisances originating from transportation
(including motorcycles), businesses, plants and other factors (e.g. home amplifiers)
6. Radiation and poison gases
The authority should finance and carry out routine surveys of background radioactive radiation in its jurisdiction. It should finance and conduct radon surveys in all its educational institutions, should examine the impact of non-ionizing radiation from high pressure lines and transmission stations and should initiate environmental and occupational health checks within the plants in its jurisdiction.
7. Site protection, nature protection and cultivation of "green lungs"
Heads of local authorities are responsible for the cultivation of "green lungs" both within and in the vicinity of the locality: streams, seashores and open public landscapes. The local authority should protect nature and landscape resources.
Nearly all local authorities in Israel contain archeological and historical sites from different historical periods. The authority should declare these sites historical sites, or sites of special architectural and aesthetic value, and should do all in its power to preserve them. When drafting development plans for the settlement, conservation needs should be accorded high priority.
The authority should protect, maintain and develop its gardens, parks and open spaces.
8. Cleanliness and physical appearance
The authority should strive to improve the physical appearance of the settlement. It should invest resources in improving general cleanliness, should pay extra attention to cleanliness around garbage containers in residential areas and industrial areas and should prevent the illegal pasting of announcements.
The authority should reexamine such realms as road signs, street signs, waiting stations, benches, announcement boards, settlement maps, lighting, garbage containers, business signs, pedestrian malls and pavements and squares, paying special attention to design and proper use of materials, construction of pergolas, flower pots and window boxes, transportation islands, water fountains, shaded areas and public rest rooms.
Public gardens, with a variety of vegetation and convenient facilities for all segments of the population, should be especially protected with a high level of care and cleanliness. The authority should open trails for walkers and bicycle riders in open space areas and should establish observation points, forested areas and parks for recreational and other uses.
The authority should promulgate and enforce bylaws forbidding the abandonment of animals and cruelty to animals. Killing of forsaken animals should be forbidden and special centers should be established for their protection. The authority should work to prevent the spread of disease through vaccinations and should inform pet owners concerning the dispersion of poisons.
How has this model platform influenced the recent municipal elections? Only time will tell. However, it is abundantly clear that the efforts made by environmental organizations have borne fruit. A national steering committee for the promotion of the environmental issue in the local elections was set up by Life and the Environment, the umbrella organization for non-governmental environmental bodies. Chaired by Gavrush Shemesh, head of the Israel Economic Forum on the Environment, the committee published information announcements in the press urging citizens to vote for the candidate who promises to place environmental concerns high on his agenda and met with the candidates themselves to convince them to add environmentalists to the city council. It appears that the day in which electoral candidates dared leave environmental issues off their platforms is over.
The following highlights from Environment Minister’s Sarid letter to municipal candidates summarizes the point: "The Ministry of the Environment views the municipal elections as an important opportunity to bring about a positive and vital turning point in the attitude of public representatives to environmental problems… In the past, good mayors were often good builders, builders who so elevated their sights…that they forgot to lower them every once in a while to see the sewage, see the garbage… All too frequently yesterday’s mayors forsook infrastructures for the sake of superstructures. But today’s mayors must adopt a new and energetic approach to the environmental issue. They must prove themselves worthy of the support of the citizens who have decided once and for all to protect themselves and their children from the nuisances of sewage, waste, air and water pollution, noise, hazardous waste and radiation."
May it truly be so!
Please note the new address of the Israel Economic Forum on the Environment: P.O.B. 33036, Tel Aviv 61330