The Knesset passed a law on Tuesday, January 1, allowing the public and nonprofit groups to file civil suits against any person or entity that damages the environment – legislation that was inspired by a 2017 disaster at a fertilizer plant near the Dead Sea. All 12 Knesset members who were in the chamber voted in favor of the bill.
Until now, civil suits could only be filed if the environmental hazard – like air pollution, bad smells or waste – caused harm to people. Under the new legislation, which is an amendment to the Prevention of Environmental Hazards Law, civil suits can be filed even if the only damage is to flora, fauna or natural landscapes.
The legislative initiative came in the wake of a June 2017 disaster when the Ashalim Stream near the Dead Sea was massively polluted when the wall of a large pool at the privatized Rotem Amfert fertilizer plant collapsed. The mishap poured 100,000 cubic meters (26.4 million gallons) of highly acidic wastewater and other pollutants – roughly enough fluid to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools – into the Ashalim riverbed. The toxic wastewater snaked through the desert destroying everything in its path before collecting again in a pool several kilometers from the Dead Sea. Because no human was hurt by the collapse, the public could not file a civil suit, even though the stream bed, a popular hiking spot, has been closed to visitors ever since the spill. This is to say nothing of the vast damage caused to the flora and fauna in the area. The Rotem Amfert fertilizer plant is owned and operated by Israel Chemicals (ICL).
Environmental and biodiversity experts from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), and Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry said at the time that it will take years before the full extent of the damage is known, and far longer to rehabilitate the area, as the impact on the stream and the plants and wildlife within 10 kilometers of the spill were severe. Among the damages, more than 1,000 bodies of water whose source is the tainted stream were poisoned, thereby endangering animals seeking hydration from them.
The bill passed this week was initiated by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and was sponsored by Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List). Over 70 MKs from all political parties signed on as supporters of the bill.
Khenin, who announced Tuesday morning that he will not be running for re-election to the 21st Knesset, said after the amendment passed: “Our ability as a society to fight polluters is limited because of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s small budget and the insufficient number of inspectors. This law will allow civil enforcement to claim damages and compensation from those who cause us so much damage.”