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Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv


DE RUEHTV #2586/01 3261431
P 211431Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJ: EPA Administrator Visits Israel

1. (U) Summary: US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Stephen L. Johnson visited Israel October 22-27, consulting with GOI
ministries of Environmental Protection and National Infrastructure,
and visiting pollution hotspots and sites of reclamation. In
discussions with GOI officials Johnson and his delegation advanced
USG objectives of sharing technology that combats pollution,
enhances water security, and facilitates Israeli compliance with
criteria for OECD membership. Israeli officials expressed interest
in greater technology exchange, more information about EPA's
Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) program, and training to
increase environmental enforcement capacity. Despite imminent
elections and changes in both American and Israeli governments,
contact and collaboration between career staff of both countries
will continue to pursue a number of shared interests. EPA officers
cleared on this report. End Summary.

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2. (U) US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator
Stephen L. Johnson visited Israel October 22-27, on the invitation
from Israel Minister for Environmental Protection Gideon Ezra. The
Administrator was accompanied by Chief of Staff Charles Ingebretson,
Acting Assistant Administrator for International Affairs Scott
Fulton, New York Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg, and Tom
Dunne, EPA Associate Administrator for Homeland Security. Conny
Arvis, Deputy Director NEA/RA and post ESTH officer also joined the
EPA trip. Johnson's first meeting was with the Ambassador to
discuss EPA's interests in Israel and receive a briefing on the
broader bilateral relationship. Since 9/11, the EPA has been
responsible for US water security policy, protecting the national
water supplies from intentional or accidental contamination by
chemical, biological, radiological or other agents. Understanding
how Israel manages these risks and structures its response to such
incidents was the primary objective of Johnson's trip. EPA was also
interested in enhancing the exchange of environmental technology,
building on a 1992 bilateral MOU between EPA and Israel's Ministry
of Environment. Finally, Johnson wanted to explore the regional
dimension of pollution in the Middle East, specifically asking to
meet with Palestinian environmental authorities. Ambassador
outlined the state of Annapolis negotiations and USG engagement with
Israel on key regional issues.

Ministry Meetings
3. (U) On October 23, Johnson and delegation, accompanied by the
Ambassador, met Minister Ezra and Ministry of Environmental
Protection (MEP) officials in Tel Aviv. Ezra opened discussions by
pointing out the great potential for cooperation between the two
countries, and how much Israel could learn from the far broader US
experience with environmental regulation. Stating that Israel's
force of 45 enforcement officials was far below the number required,
he noted the need for better training and increasing his ministry's
capacity. Effective enforcement enables better understanding of the
source of environmental problems, he said. MEP Deputy Director
General Valerie Brachya briefly outlined the state of Israel's
environment. The country faces shortages of water, natural
resources and living space, while it must cope with rising air
pollution, population, demand for energy, and risk to biodiversity.
MEP objectives, she synopsized, are to decrease emissions, reduce
Israel's vulnerability to environmental risk, and improve the
sustainability of the economy. To achieve these objectives, Brachya
stressed the need for better environmental technologies, and hoped
that US technology could be tapped to help.

4. (U) One motivation for upgrading Israel's environmental
technology, Brachya stated, is Israel's pending membership
application to the OECD. Environmental criteria make up 60 of the
200 instruments required by the OECD for accession, she observed,
and meeting the costs of accommodation was becoming a challenge
given Israel's budget constraints. Israel's approach to the
environment is primarily a command-and-control approach, but they
are working to develop the needed economic instruments. To this end,
Israel was looking to the US for assistance on how to implement
these instruments. Israel will give its first presentation at the
upcoming OECD Environmental Policy Committee meeting in February,
2009. Administrator Johnson said he understood Israel's situation,
and hoped the bilateral agreement signed in 1992 could be useful for
future collaboration. He underscored that the coming change of US
administrations made him unable to commit any future EPA resources,
but he expected that the career staff of EPA, including Acting
Assistant Administrator for International Affairs Scott Fulton,
would continue to work to facilitate technology exchange.

5. (U) MEP Vice Director General Yossi Inbar outlined GOI incentive
structures devised to encourage the development and adoption of
environmental technology by business. These mechanisms include
Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) and special funds to
assist companies changing over to better technologies. Inbar
stressed that information about EPA's Environmental Technologoy
Verification (ETV) program would greatly assist Israeli
environmental technology developers, and he hoped a way could be
found to provide this information to Israeli researchers.

6. (U) Yossi Inbar and Michal BarTov briefly presented how Israel
manages hazardous substances. This included handling of incidents,
risk management, integrated emergency reaction methods, and
decontamination responses. MEP coordinates all government bodies
dealing with hazardous materials. A distinction between the
immediate reaction and the longer-term response and recovery period
was made. Israel records an average of 250 hazmat incidents per
year, mostly in-plant accidents, spills or transportation events.
Due to its compact size, Israeli reaction capacity can be pulled
from locales across the country quickly and is very diverse,
encompassing fire, police, environment ministry, Home Front Command,
and Red Cross (Red Magen David) components. Biological
contamination is not MEP's responsibility. MEP is the first
responder for "dirty bombs", but is not responsible for long-term

7. (U) EPA discussed emergency response with MEP, where the issue is
both radiological decontamination and area-wide biological
contamination. Both sides agreed to arrange a follow-up discussion
between the experts to share common concerns and responses to
long-term decontamination.

8. (U) Valerie Brachya discussed the Israeli situation with respect
to air pollution. Air pollution "hot spots" include the Haifa Bay
industrial area, the Hadera Power Plant, Tel Aviv, which is
Israel's most densely populated urban area, the Ashkelon industrial
area, and the Ramat Hovav industrial area. Israel has one of the
most dense air monitoring networks in the world, with about 100 air
monitoring stations throughout the country, run by MEP and local
officials. These stations measure PM 2.5, PM 10, NOX, SOX and lead.
Gasoline has been unleaded since 2004, and they are working to
reduce sulfur in fuel, thus reducing particulates from
transportation. MEP is very interested in cooperation with EPA
regarding air quality, including risk assessment guidelines, quality
assurance/quality control of air monitoring stations, air dispersion
modeling for complex terrain, and remote sensing technology for
monitoring emissions.

9. (U) The EPA Administrator, again accompanied by Ambassador, met
with the Ministry of National Infrastructure (MNI), led by Director
General Hezi Kugler. Also attending were representatives from MEP,
the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture. The agenda
covered three topics: water security, emergency response capacity,
and alternative energy as a means of reducing environmental risks.
Each side shared lessons from experience; Tom Dunne, previously head
of the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, the predecessor
to FEMA, presented the EPA's Water Security Initiative. The
differences in scale between the US and Israel were striking: Israel
has a single parastatal (Mekorot) that distributes water through the
national carrier system, and is responsible for sourcing and
securing three-fourths of Israel's water; Dunne noted that the US
has over 15,000 water treatment systems and 54,000 distribution
systems. Nonetheless, the same imperatives of physical security,
public health protection, and consumer awareness operate in both
countries. The critical features of monitoring, precautionary
actions, command and control in reaction situations, and
decontamination during a remediation phase were common to both
systems. Uri Shani, Director of the Israel Water Authority,
discussed the country's critical water shortage, and the importance
of desalination. By 2014, if present tenders issued by the Israeli
government for additional desalination facilities are built, Israel
will produce 750 million cubic meters of water, almost the entirety
of consumer fresh water demand in Israel. Agriculture by then will
be shifted to 100 percent treated wastewater use, from about 43
percent now. In Israel, the Ministry of Health is in charge of
drinking water quality. Israel does not allow wastewater to be used
for drinking water, even treated wastewater.

10. (U) Kugler outlined the GOI's alternative energy policy
objectives. Transportation is the major cause of pollution in
Israel, followed by electricity generation. While the Environment
Ministry has mandated low-sulfur diesel and no-lead gasoline, MNI
policy addresses the energy sector. Twenty years ago Israel
switched from fuel oil to coal for its power generation, and now is
turning to natural gas as a cleaner alternative. Coal presently
generates 70 percent of Israel's electricity, and is expected to
still power 50 percent of it in 2050. Israel thus needs clean coal
technology, both to reduce CO2 emissions and to diminish the
country's vulnerability to petroleum suppliers and prices. One

concern, however, is that there is not enough area available for
carbon sequestration in Israel. Alternative energy sources are also
being pursued, including construction of a 250 mw solar power plant
in the Negev desert, and wind and wave energy projects. The
Ministry's goal is to produce 10-15 percent of electricity from
alternative sources by 2020; this is paired with the ambitious goal
of reducing Israel's energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 (off
of a 2006 baseline). Regarding transportation, the goal is 5
percent of all fuel needs from biofuels by 2012. Johnson echoed
Kugler's hope to see clean coal technology advance, as the US still
derives half its power from coal, and has a 200 year supply.
Bilateral cooperation on energy is strong, Johnson acknowledged,
with the US DOE playing the coordinating role on joint research.

11. (U) Johnson met US Consul General Walles in Jerusalem on October
24, and separately with the Vice chairman of the Palestinian Water
Authority and consultants to discuss environmental and water
problems in the regional perspective. These meetings will be covered

Hot Spots and Water Sites
12. (U) Administrator Johnson and his delegation traveled to Haifa
Bay and its surrounding port to observe Israel's environmental
challenge. Environment Ministry officials briefed Johnson while
surveying the site from land and from the water. The City of Haifa
has 400,000 residents, 13 percent of Israel's population, with a
density of 2600 persons per square mile crowded into a mountainous
coastal landscape. Haifa is Israel's chief deep water port, and the
coastal plain bordering it on the East is one of Israel's most
highly industrialized zones. Besides the freight port, there are
oil refineries, petrochemical plants, natural gas storage, heavy
industry and a power generation plant. The Kishon River bisects the
area as it empties into Haifa Bay, and is one of the most polluted
sites in Israel.

13. (U) The close proximity of hazardous and toxic industrial sites
to dense a population center raises serious environmental and public
health risks. (During the 1991 Gulf War a missile attack on Haifa
targeted the tank farm storing ammonia, and could have had
disastrous consequences.) The Ministry policy is to promote reuse,
recycling, neutralization and safe disposal of hazardous materials.
Johnson and EPA officers compared the Haifa Bay situation to Long
Beach, California, and Newark, New Jersey, and discussed US efforts
to address comparable problems.

14. (U) A visit to the Eshkol filtration facility of Mekorot,
Israel's national water distributor, focused on water quality and
security. The Eshkol facility, opened in 2007 after a US$200
million investment, is Israel's central filtration plant and the
fourth largest in the world. Its capacity is 450 million cubic
meters of water annually, with most of the water drawn from Lake
Tiberias and distributed through the national carrier. It uses less
chemical treatment than other facilities, and is more
environmentally friendly. As part of its quality monitoring system,
Mekorot uses a fish species from Africa that is highly sensitive to
toxins as an indicator of deterioration in water quality.

15. (U) The Administrator also received briefings at the source of
Israel's national water carrier system, the Sapir Intake at Lake
Tiberias. At Sapir, massive pumps push the water from 213 meters
below sea level(Lake Tiberias) to 44 meters above sea level where it
flows to the Eshkol filtration plant. Given the Sapir location -
the northern edge of the lake, within sight of formerly
Syrian-controlled Golan Heights - the plant was placed inside a
mountain, underground for better defense of the critical resource
facility. Mekorot management briefed EPA on the mechanics of the
facility, as well as water security features of Israel's
distribution system further downstream. Water from the Sapir
facility is transported ultimately down to the Negev Desert, after
consumer use and treatment in central Israel. Hydrologists pointed
out that due to poor rains the Lake's level has fallen five meters
over the decade, and now stands only 20cm above the black line
level, below which it will be physically difficult to withdraw
water. The red-line level, below wish it is hydrologically unwise
and ecologically damaging to withdraw water, was crossed last

16. (U) Desalination is Israel's hope for a future sustainable water
supply. The EPA team toured the Ashkelon desalinization plant, the
largest in the world, on October 26. The facility is a BOT (spell
out) operation drawing on investment from Veolia and an Israeli
partner IDE, and produced 105 million cm of pure water in 2007. It
uses a reverse osmosis membrane technology, pumping sea water at 70
bars of pressure through filters. Two other facilities of this
scale are slated to be opened in 2009 (Hadera) and 2013 (Palmachim),
Israel's goal is 750 mcm of desalinated water in 2013, the entirety
of consumer water demand. The security that desalination provides
to Israel's water system comes at the price of energy; the Ashkelon
plant has its own 55 MW gas-fired power plant, and nation-wide 6
percent of all electricity produced goes to supplying water around
Israel, a figure that will increase with more desalination
facilities. Ashkelon, however, is one of the most efficient
desalination plants in the world, re-using much of its energy.

17. (U) Towards addressing both energy needs and environmental
remediation, Israel's Dan Regional Association of Towns is turning
an enormous former landfill on the edge of Tel Aviv into a natural
gas source and nature/recreation park. The EPA team toured
Hiriya/Park Ariel Sharon, observing 70 wells producing 30,000 cubic
meters of natural gas captured each day from the 120 acre former
landfill. Most of the 2000 hectare site will be graded, planted and
groomed into a recreation center. One corner of Hiriya remains a
processing and transfer point for urban waste, where it is sorted
and organic materials are fed to an anaerobic digester facility for
biogas production, while glass and plastics are sent to recycling.
The goal is to reduce the waste sent to landfill by 50 percent in
weight, because Tel Aviv's waste is now sent 60 - 80 miles south, at
a cost of USD 30 per ton.

Public Roundtable
18. (U) On October 23 Administrator Johnson delivered the keynote
speech at a Tel Aviv University forum on "The Business Case for
Environmental Protection." He addressed the tension between
advancing environmental initiatives in the business world and
maintaining an economic competitive advantage. His theme was that
the two challenges are not mutually exclusive. Today, American
businesses recognize the benefits in having a strategic
environmental corporate program, and the cost effectiveness in
avoiding pollution. The pressure to find new,
ecologically-sensitive technologies can be a pro-active challenge
and enhance competitiveness. This approach is also validated by the
high cost of litigation and general public disapproval for poor
environmental performance; corporate environmental records
increasingly influence the public's purchasing and investment
decisions. In sum, a culture of compliance needs to be fostered by
public authorities. The lively roundtable discussion following
Johnson's talk included representatives from the Israeli Ministry of
Environment, the Israel Union of Environmental Defense, and the
Alfred Akirov Institute for Business and the Environment at Tel Aviv

Next Steps
19. (U) Although the impending changes of government in both Israel
and the United States made policy commitments with budget
implications inappropriate, EPA Administrator and team departed with
a list of specific interests for EPA career staff to pursue. GOI
Environment Ministry would like to see the EPA share its approach to
Environmental Technology Verification, along with other
environmental programs. Closer exchange of information on
environmental approaches and technologies that could lighten the
burden of Israel complying with OECD membership criteria are a
priority as well. GOI officials acknowledged that Israel's
enforcement mechanisms are weak and need more training and better
funding, especially in light of new regulatory obligations.

20. (U) From the American side, discussions continue about specific
follow-up, but could include 3 issues:

-- Water Security: EPA will continue to follow up on the 2005
Statement of Intent on Water Security, and commit to working
together with the Israelis to enhance each country's knowledge on
water security. EPA will exchange information regarding water
security, including prevention, detection, and monitoring; and
facilitate visits to each nation's water infrastructure sites to
observe physical security arrangements and equipment. EPA will
notify and coordinate with the US Department of Homeland Security
and provide an opportunity for them to participate, if appropriate.

-- Emergency response: EPA will continue to follow-up on its
technical exchange with DOE and Israel on radiological
contamination, with another meeting in Washington on November 12th.
EPA will use this meeting to learn more about Israeli expertise on
this issue. The Israelis are interested in following up on
cooperation on area-wide contamination and recovery, and this too is
an area of concern for EPA.
-- Exchange of Technical Information: EPA will work with its
technical staff to provide information on key technical issues that
the Israelis have requested, including:
- Verification of Innovative Environmental Technologies
- Health Impact Assessment
- Risk Management
- LADAR (Leak Detection & Repair)
- PRTR (Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers)
- Review of Methodology of Israeli Ambient Air Pollution
- Environmental aspects of Israel's candidacy for OECD


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