The Kawerau pulp and paper mill should not be granted consents to pollute the Tarawera River — known locally as “The Black Drain” — for another thirty-five years.
I spoke yesterday at the hearings in Whakatane for consents to discharge to air and water from the pulp mill.
The pulp mill, owned by companies Carter Holt Harvey and Norske Skog, started polluting the Tarawera River and the air around Kawerau in 1955. Now they want another 35 years of maintaining the status quo. The local Green Party and I have sought a maximum ten-year consent, as reported in the NZ Herald this morning.
We also cannot accept the companies’ repetitive use of an “exceptional circumstances” excuse to pollute and discolour the Tarawera River. Section 107 of the RMA allows for otherwise polluting discharges to air and water to be granted under “exceptional circumstances”.
‘Exceptional’ means something ‘extraordinary’ or ‘infrequent’, yet the Tarawera has been ordinarily and frequently (indeed continually) polluted for 54 years. Reapplying for “exceptional circumstances” is an unacceptable interpretation of our environmental protection laws.
The pulp and paper mill needs to demonstrate a transparent and robust plan to stop using the chlorinated chemicals that turn the Tarawera River into a polluted private drain, and do this within ten years.
Kiwifruit grower Harry Lagocki warned that the pollution damages Bay of Plenty’s horticultural industry. He said, “I have to convince buyers that my water is clean, or my fruit is rejected. This is not just tree-huggers who will be affected here, it is serious businesses with a lot to lose.”
I also challenged the hearings panel to recognise Te Tiriti o Waitangi responsibilities by honouring the consistent call by tangata whenua to stop the pollution of their river.
The hearings panel applying our environmental protection laws need to send the companies a strong message that they need to take cultural and environmental responsibility, demonstrate best practice in the management of the mill, and stop the pollution.
The companies threaten to close the mill and cause job losses as soon as they are challenged to improve their practices. We must resist these threats – this bullying approach must not be rewarded by yet another “exceptional” 35-year consent to pollute the the beautiful Bay of Plenty.