The Resource Management Act is a cornerstone of environmental management in New Zealand. We may hear complaints about it, but rarely do we think about what our back yards, our beaches, our streets, parks and rivers would look like without it. Our living space would be much worse off if the RMA was not there to ensure developers made some effort to avoid, remedy or mitigate the effects of their developments.
The Resource Management (RM) Reform Bill is the National Government’s latest attack on the legislation which governs how we treat nature. Earlier in 2012 we have had the Exclusive Economic Zone and Extended Continental Shelf Act – extending environmental protection out into the EEZ. Or it would if that was its purpose. Unfortunately it’s not. Regulations under the EEZ Act may see high risk offshore oil exploration being a permitted or controlled activity (where the EPA can’t say no but can only impose conditions).
Then we had the Crown Minerals Bill 2012, which gives the Minster for Energy and Resources joint decision making power over applications to mine on conservation land. The Minister for Conservation remains in the loop but given this Government’s support for mining and willingness to put the interests of industry before conservation the Minister of Energy’s views will prevail.
And at the end of 2012 we have the piecemeal and ad hoc RM Reform Bill. It has been introduced with no public discussion or consensus on what the aims of “reform” should be. It tilts the playing field further in favour of development.
The bill promotes speedy decisions by councils at the expense of good decisions and restricts access to the Environment Court, including on the Auckland Combined Plan. National is attempting to silence opposition to its “dig it, drill it, mine it, irrigate it” agenda by making it harder for NGOs to advocate for the environment.
The Bill will also make it harder for councils to have plan policies and rules to control intensive land uses such as intensive agriculture to protect our lakes, rivers and groundwater. This is because of new criteria for s32 assessments under the Act which give great weight to the economic impacts in any cost benefit analysis. We should be working to clean up our waterways not making it more difficult for councils to introduce regulation.