Israel's environmental groups have declared Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa as 'air pollution-stricken' areas.
The move, made last week, was carried out in protest of the government's procrastination in implementing the Clear Air Law, passed in January 2011.
The law allows the Environmental Protection Ministry to declare urban areas which routinely register abnormal levels of air pollution and "stricken" – a statue that mandates municipalities to submit plans to bring the situation under control within six months time.
The ministry has reportedly been considering applying the measure for quite some time, but the green groups say that the ministry's failure to follow through is hindering the submission of such plans.
The groups fear that the ministry – faced with the cities' adamant objection – has effectively reneged on its decision. Ministry sources denied the assumption, saying the decision was only deferred, to allow the cities to come up with air pollution reduction plans on their own.
But according to environmental groups, the Air Pollution Law is not the only legislation the government is failing to implement.
In January, the Coalition for Public Health and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) filed a High Court petition against the state, alleging the government was torpedoing the law, but repeatedly deferring the vote on the national air pollution reduction plan.
"The Air Pollution Law is going through severe growing pains," IUED CEO Amit Bracha said. "The Treasury won't allot it its budgets, the State won't declare relevant areas as pollution stricken and not a week goes by without the Knesset cutting its articles.
"This makes the government liable for disregarding the public's health and allowing people to die from diseases related to air pollution."
Ronit Piso, director of the Coalition for Public Health, added: "The law provides municipalities with the necessary authority and tools, but they refuse to use it. The law also demands that the government implement the national emission reduction plan it formulated, citing budgetary concerns.
"I guess no one in the government bothered to read the plan's outline – it's supposed to save money."
The State's rebuttal said that the Treasury and the Environmental Protection are still negotiation the plan's budget.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said that, "The national plan for the reduction of air pollution was submitted to government review six months ago. Unfortunately the government has yet to vote on the matter, which is also being heard by the High Court.
"The ministry has not reneged on its intention to declare Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa as pollution-stricken, but has deferred the decision in order to allow them to act on the matter. Several plans have already been submitted and the ministry is closely overseeing their progress on the matter and will review its decision accordingly," the statement added.
The ministry stressed that "A key component in controlling air pollution has nothing to do with the local municipality but with steps taken by the Transportation Ministry and the steps it takes to reduce the pollution caused by public transportation."
Cities reject dubious title
The City of Tel Aviv dismissed the claim suggesting it opposes the plan to cut public transportation emission: "Tel Aviv was the first city in Israel to present a strategic air pollution reduction plan, five years ago. Since then there has been a significant improvement on the matter.
"(…) There is no reason to declare Tel Aviv as pollution-stricken, since the relevant plan is already in place and underway."
The City of Jerusalem said it opposed the decision to declare it pollution-stricken, saying it was "Based on irrelevant data compiled between 2008 and 2010. The past year has seen vast changes in our pollution levels and since January 2011 the city has not exceeded approved or recommended levels."
The City added that it was not authorized to instruct public transportation companies to upgrade their vehicles to advanced low-emission engines, concluding with a statement saying that "We demand the Environmental Protection Ministry refrain from declaring Jerusalem as pollution-stricken."
"The municipality and the Environmental Protection Ministry's work on the matter has resulted in the air in Haifa currently being among the cleanest in Israel… We are constantly working to further reduce air pollution, the majority of which derives from public transportation."