Treasury reverses bid to oust Environment Ministry advisers from planning boards

Ministry agrees to speed up impact survey process in exchange for more funds; staff cut deal with Finance Ministry after protests over plan to put private consultants on committees

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Construction workers in a tunnel being bored for a new highway into Jerusalem on March 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Construction workers in a tunnel being bored for a new highway into Jerusalem on March 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The Finance Ministry is backing away from a proposal to remove Environmental Protection Ministry advisers on planning committees, following massive pushback from environmental and civil society organizations as well as the environment minister.

The Finance Ministry plan, which would have swapped out ministry representatives for private environmental consultants answerable to the Interior Ministry, was one of many initiatives approved by the government to speed up big infrastructure projects by cutting regulatory hurdles.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced that the Treasury had agreed to leave its representatives on the land use planning boards, so long as environmental impact surveys required for new projects were completed more quickly.

The deal consists of new funding, including for more staff, to make the Environmental Protection Ministry’s impact survey process more efficient, a statement said.

“There is no dispute that the resources available to the ministry do not currently allow compliance with these requirements [for faster surveys], and therefore it was agreed that additional resources will be assigned,” the ministry said.

Minister of Environmental Protection Idit Silman speaks at an Energy Conference in Tel Aviv, March 13, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman said the original proposal would have substantially harmed existing protections for the public and the environment built into the planning process.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel welcomed the deal.

“For the benefit of nature, the environment, the health, and quality of life of all of us, the environmental consultants must be independent, and certainly not be connected to private and external parties with different interests. We are happy that this situation will be maintained,” it said.

The Finance Ministry proposal had been part of national infrastructure legislation being advanced by the government as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill that accompanies the state budget.

Among other parts of the package remaining in the bill are new rules that will restrict the public’s right to object to plans, allow the Treasury to overrule the Agriculture Ministry’s forestry commissioner refusing permits to fell protected or mature trees, permit polluting power stations to sidestep clean air regulations, and let construction companies working on big infrastructure projects make substantial noise at all hours, and in some cases, to exceed decibel levels permitted in law.

At the end of last month, the Interior Ministry gave up on a bid to wrest control of an over NIS 3.2 billion ($900 million) fund for waste management from the Environmental Protection Ministry.

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