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Alon Tal

Without a Standard of Reasonableness, there is no environment

בלי סבירות -- אין סביבה:בראיונות לערוצי הטלוויזיה בחו״ל לאחרונה שמענו את ראש הממשלה נתניהו מתייחס לביטול עילת הסבירות בביטול: ״תיקון מינורי״ הוא אומר. ״עושים מהומה על לא מאומה.״אז מן הבמה הזאת באשדוד, אני אומר לך בנימין נתניהו. ביטול עילת הסבירות הוא לא שינוי טכני ומזערי. הוא מסרס את המשפט הסביבתי וגוזל את אחד הכלים המשפטיים החשובים – מן הציבור, כלומר מכולנו, כלי שנחוץ לשמירת איכות החיים.לכן אנו אומרים לך ראש הממשלה נתניהו: ״בלי סבירות – אין סביבה״.

Posted by ‎אלון טל - Alon Tal‎ on Saturday, August 5, 2023

This Week’s Speech at the Ashdod Protest Against the Government’s Legal Reforms:

Good Evening Ashdod!

My message today is a simple one: If there is no Standard of Reasonableness by which the Supreme Court can review administrative decisions, Israel’s environment will not be protected.

In other words: “Without a standard of reasonableness — there is no environment.

Thirty years ago, I established the environmental organization: Adam Teva V’din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. We were a group of young attorneys, and we set out to protect environmental quality in Israel through legal actions.

I decided that it was best to start with the country’s most serious ecological challenges. Even back then, Haifa Bay was the most polluted place in the land of Israel. We knew the data: One of every three children was asthmatic; very high cancer rates due to toxic air pollution.

We also knew that the professionals working at the Ministry of Environmental Quality had prepared permits – “personal orders” they called them, against the two major source of air pollution in Haifa: the Oil Refineries and the Power Plant of the Israel Electric Company. The problem was that tremendous pressure was put on the Minister of Environment at the time, and he decided not to release them.

We thought that this was unreasonable. When we got to the Supreme Court, Justice Meir Shemgar, of blessed memory, also was of the opinion that this was unreasonable. He reproached the ministry and its leadership for neglecting Haifa’s public health, the permits were published and environmental quality began to improve.

For me the lesson was clear:  Without a standard of reasonableness — there is no environment.

Recently we all saw Prime Minister Netanyahu interviewed in the foreign news channels about the cancellation of the reasonableness standard by the Knesset – and he was dismissive: “It’s  a minor change; They’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

So, from this stage in Ashdod, I want to let you know Mr. Prime Minister: Cancelling the reasonableness standard was not  an inconsequential, technical change.  It eviscerates fundamental legal protection of Israel’s environment and takes from the public — that is from each and every one of us  — a basic tool that is essential to protecting our quality of life.

And that’s why we are informing you Prime Minister Netanyahu: Without a standard of reasonableness — there is no environment.

Tens of years have passed, and tens of legal actions have been filed. Just last month we faced the exact same situation: For years officials at the Health Ministry have been warning us of the dangers PFAS chemicals – what are often called locally “Forever pollutants” in our water. They affect fertility, cause cancer and disrupt children’s immune system. The health experts called for promulgation of standards to control them, as is accepted in Europe, the U.S. and all enlightened places.

I convened a special hearing in my Knesset sub-committee for health and environment about the problem and the Ministry of Environment representatives promised to do something.  But once again — they did nothing. So again, with Adam Teva V’din leading the way, I filed a Supreme Court petition and the court decided that it was unreasonable to delay publishing regulations for so long and ordered that standards be promulgated within three months.

Once again it was clear Without a standard of reasonableness — there is no environment.

If you opened the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper today, you could read about what happened in Herzliyah. A major new neighborhood was planned near the historic park of Apolonia.  But it was planned on top of an abandoned defense factory facility which had left behind highly contaminated soils.  No proper environmental impact statement had been prepared. So local residents documented the situation  and went to the Supreme court. The Court  immediately cancelled the approval of the plans because it was extremely unreasonable. That’s a very good thing: a month ago, the munitions buried in the ground began to explode. Today, the good people of Herzliyah understand very well:

Without a standard of reasonableness — there is no environment.

I research transboundary environmental challenges and I am in touch with scientists and NGOs in neighboring countries: Jordanians, Egyptians, Palestinians. The truth of the matter is that environmental conditions there are lousy. It’s not that they don’t have environmental organizations or good people who care about the environment. But they have no independent courts that can turn to intervene and say: “Stop the pollution”. Economic interests always dominate the decision making process, and there is no forum in which the public can make its voice heard. In the Arab world, like so many countries without an active and independent court, people know:

Without a standard of reasonableness — there is no environment.

Dear residents of Ashdod, it is time we talk about your town. I’m sure you are aware that air pollution has increased here as of late. And now they want to bring you a long list of new projects: massive tanks of natural gas and petroleum compounds; new storage sites for bitumen and condensate oil. These are hazardous, carcinogenic chemicals.

Ever since the British mandate, the Central Government here has been authorized to trample Local Governments here.  But in the past, at least, for local mayors and – for you the public – the road was open to the Supreme Court. There you had the opportunity to stop unreasonable decisions that would harm your environment. And planning commissions knew that, so they had to act reasonably.

But now the Knesset just closed this door. What are you going to do when developers start throwing up buildings 60 meters from your seashore? When they come to destroy your remarkable sand dune park?

That’s why we are here today friends.  We are to make its clear: We will not allow the destruction of our legal system!  And we will leave our children with the same crucial legal tools that we have enjoyed, so that they too can protect their environment.

In short – we have no choice: We will restore the standard of reasonableness.  And we will protect our environment.

Shavua Tov.  Have a good week!

About the Author
Alon Tal is a professor of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University. In 2021 and 2022, he was chair of the Knesset's Environment, Climate & Health subcommittee.
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