by Catherine Delahunty
Last night was a great night at Parliament for several reasons. Not the least was the one vote majority that sent my “Black Drain” Bill through First Reading to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. Act. The Greens are celebrating because it is very hard to get Bills through the First Reading in this Parliament and we didn’t think we had the numbers until the last minute.
This Bill matters because an obscure point of law can send out so many ripples. The RMA Section 107 (2) (a) “exceptional circumstances” clause has been the justification for some major pollution of waterways and the coastal environment. The main inspiration for my Bill is the Tarawera River. The pulp mills at Kawerau have 22 years left on their consent so if my Bill passes into law the river won’t be saved overnight but this is about never allowing this type of long-term pollution under the excuse of “exceptional circumstances” to happen again!
The arguments the National party made against my Bill were curious. They attacked the Bill for being about a single river and it isn’t. There at least two other examples of using this clause to abuse waterways and/or the sea, the Gisborne sewage case and the Mighty River Power case at Wairakei. They claim it is pointless because the mills already have the consent and that there is no need to change the law for just one Bill. However I have worked with many people on this issue for about 15 years and my partner started the campaign in the 1980s. The pulp mills could easily argue the “exceptional circumstances” clause again in 22 years. They have been doing this under the RMA since 1995 and used their own special law called the Tasman Pulp and Paper Company Enabling Act 1954 before that!
The argument that cleaning up the river will cost jobs is the threat that had always been used and it ignores the options pulp mills have to change from toxic bleaching of pulp and paper to oxygen bleaching and how they can work towards a closed loop reuse system for the wastewater. They certainly have had and still have plenty of time to do this. It would be great to see these mills turn into a modern bio refinery of timber products, using some of the great work Scion is doing.
The other argument was this issue should be part of the RMA reform process. This may sound logical and I am not opposed to this but in practical terms I would need to see if the Government has any intention to include this change in their next round of RMA “reforms”.
Whatever happens it is important to note that this pollution started in 1955 and when the consent runs out that will be nearly 80 years of deliberate pollution. Exceptional alright, exceptionally damaging and offensive!