by Eugenie Sage
Forest and Bird deserves every success in its Environment Court case to protect the distinctive coal measures ecosystems and landscapes of the Denniston Plateau. This week the Court began hearing the Society’s appeal against West Coast councils granting resource consents under the RMA to Australian miner, Bathurst Resources’ destructive plans for an open cast coal mine.
The case is particularly important because the Environment Court will give a fair hearing to those using the RMA to advocate for the giant Powelliphanta land snails, the mosaic of wetland, shrubland, forest and sandstone pavement landscapes. That’s more than is likely when the Minister of Conservation considers Bathurst’s application to access conservation land, given her Cabinet colleagues strong support for the mine and their public lobbying on behalf of the mining company.
Prime Minister John Key opened Bathurst’s Wellington office. Inside and outside Parliament, Economic Development Minister, Stephen Joyce and Finance Minister Bill English have repeatedly tried to bully Forest and Bird and other Denniston defenders into dropping their court cases in the Environment Court and the Court of Appeal. These attempts by Ministers to interfere with the course of justice are inappropriate because they are attempting to influence the outcome of legitimate court cases. Appeals
National’s pro mining, anti-environment agenda is obvious in the Ministers’ ignorance of the outstanding biodiversity values of the Denniston Plateau and the fact that the Plateau was protected as conservation land in the late 1980s because of these values while the nearby Stockton Plateau was allocated to Solid Energy’s predecessors.
National’s political agenda is underpinned by the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill which gives the Minister of Energy a new joint decision making role with the Minister of Conservation on applications to access conservation land for mining and prospecting. The Bill also introduces a new “economic benefits” criteria which would make mining applications more likely to be approved.