Industries will soon face an ultimatum to stop polluting or risk being shut down, the Environment Ministry said Wednesday.
During a news conference held at the ministry’s headquarters in Antelias in the presence of Lebanese Industrialists Association head Jacques Sarraf, Environment Minister Michel Musa told reporters that “within two to three weeks” the ministry will start implementing strict standards on olive oil presses and the paper industry.
Musa said these two industries would be used as a starting point “because they do the most polluting.”
In the past, the ministry identified tanneries as the highest polluting industry.
The olive oil presses and paper industry will be reviewed by the ministry, which will specify their shortcomings, after which they will be given “a grace period that could extend from six months to two years,” according to Edgard Shehab, director of the unit of Strengthening the Permitting and Auditing System (SPASI) for Industries which runs the project.
At the end of the grace period, industries will be expected to be environmentally friendly.
“Otherwise, they’ll receive up to two warnings before we give the order to have them shut down,” explained Shehab.
The $350,000 SPASI project, which started in 2000 and will run through February 2002, is funded by the European Union and managed by the United Nations Development Program.
SPASI’s goals include setting up and updating decrees for environmental quality standards and establishments classified by the government. This plan will encompass both existing and new factories, Musa insisted.
It will also rely on technology such as the Geographic Information System (GIS) to pinpoint sources of pollution and other computer software to receive factory reports and, if they are not abiding by emission levels, send warnings.
Regarding existing factories, Musa said: “First, we will ask them to abide by the new (environmental) decisions and the existing legislation.”
The ministry plans to visit factories “on a weekly basis, to take samples randomly,” he added.
As for plans to move these industries from residential areas to industrial zones, Musa shifted the responsibility “to other ministries and departments.”
The ministry, which has already issued an environmental standards manual for industries, hopes to attract funds from international donor agencies to subsidize costs incurred by industries in their switch to cleaner technologies and manufacturing processes.
“In order to implement national environmental standards, it is necessary to find economic and non-economic incentives to help these industries,” said Musa, identifying the Finance Ministry and international organizations as likely parties for securing such incentives.
But environmentalists argue these standards were mostly copied from countries that impose zoning ordinances on industries, whereas in Lebanon industries exist in the heart of residential areas. In other words, these standards impose levels that are acceptable in industrial zones but not in residential areas.
However, Musa dismissed such arguments during the news conference, saying: “We are working on absolute standards that apply to all industries, wherever they are.”
Musa evaded questions on how he plans to implement such standards when they could conflict with the interests of politicians, who have been known to meddle in environmental issues. He admitted he had “no promises” from politicians on meddling.
“We will implement the law,” he said.