Democracy in the marine environment? Yeah right!

Opinion piece by Helen Campbell

The first shots have been fired in this government’ s plans to reduce costs and make processes easier for those in the aquaculture (marine) industry and to exponentially expand aquaculture activities and to ignore the current and future impacts of these activities on the marine environment. The cannon used for these shots is enshrined in the Resource Management Act 1991 – check out sections 360A-360C. [This was passed in 2011 and introduced the Minister of Aquaculture into the RMA.]

These sections, which enable the government through an Order In Council (an “Executive” decision), to amend regional coastal plans, by regulations, without public notification or the ability to appeal to the Environment Court, as has been in the past required by Schedule 1 of the Resource Management Act.

The National Environment Standard (NES) for Marine Aquaculture is the first salvo to be fired in a “priority” range of changes the government intends to make to the aquaculture processing regime. Still to come are proposals for industry growth outside of existing space, and/or creation of new space, which are likely to follow the same framework.

The NES deals, in particular, with reconsenting process and biodiversity matters. The proposal will replace existing regional coastal plans and change second generation plans currently under preparation. These changes will not follow Schedule 1 of the Act – that is, no public input will be possible. While the legislation states that proposed regulations “will continue to give effect” to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement as well as any regional policy statement, it is clear that aspects for the former – such as strategic planning, biodiversity, natural character, natural landscapes and features, have only been given token if any recognition. Councils currently reviewing policy documents including regional policy statements will be required by the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Minister of Aquaculture, and the Department of Conservation to comply with the political moves, again with no notification or rights to appeal.

The proposed NES overrides the (current) 2010 New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) and significant recent case law that has emphasised the importance of the objectives and policies of the NZCPS; including requirement for “appropriate activities in appropriate places”.

These legislative changes constitute a significant loss in the democratic processes that are inherent in the Resource Management Act (RMA) and will undoubtedly mean that the purpose of the Act will be undermined and that natural and physical resources, including marine ecosystems, degraded for future generations.

Issues to consider include lack of adequate information or direction on:
• Relationship between the NZCPS 2010 and the NES/regulations e.g. the recent Supreme Court case (and other decisions) emphasise the need for adverse effects on Outstanding Natural Features and Landscapes (Policy 15) to be avoided. This Supreme Court case and other case law shows that the values of landscape must be assessed as if existing structures were not in the site under consideration. This directive also relates to Outstanding Natural Character (Policy 13) and Biodiversity, ecosystems and habitats etc. (Policy 11). No existing farms, until this decision, have been assessed in accordance with this.

Strategic planning: This often is not dealt with in the planning stages; and a “strategy” the occupation of space by marine farms is effectively privatisation of the “commons”. The specific impacts of marine farming whether it is shellfish or “fed” fish is not, despite the discussion documents protests, adequately know: there is a huge “knowledge gap” which has been acknowledge by various agencies including the Ministry for Primary Industries, and proven by case law.

Policy 7 (2) NZCPS requires the identification by councils of the coastal processes, resources and values that are either under threat or at significant risk from adverse cumulative effects with thresholds (zones, standards and targets) to be set in plans (or specification of acceptable limits) to assist in determining when activities causing cumulative effects are to be avoided. These effects of course need to consider all impacts on the coastal marine area: e.g. urban activities including development, fishing and dredging, forestry sedimentation, climate change etc. as well as actual aquaculture activities including those associated with feeding and harvesting.

The “connectivity” of ecosystems within the marine environment is still largely unknown. No information on the state of strategic planning throughout NZ has been assessed by the Ministries involved in this exercise. Without this crucial information no extension in the terms of the current farms should be permitted, but should continue to be assessed as discretionary activities with public/community/iwi/scientific input.

• Adaptive management – many consents are granted with condition that allows for adaptive management: in active adaptive management, managers design practices so as to discriminate between alternative models, and thus reveal the “best” management action. This sometimes involves testing practices that differ from “normal”, in order to determine how indicators will respond over a range of conditions. In passive adaptive management, managers select the “best” management option, assuming that the model on which the predictions are based is correct. Both passive and active adaptive management require careful implementation, monitoring, evaluation of results, and adjustment of objectives and practices. Active adaptive management usually allows more reliable interpretation of results, and leads to more rapid learning.

• Existing and “deemed” permits – many consents have been granted or extended by a process that involved no public consultation either through consent applications or planning processes. Many of these decisions were made on an ad hoc basis, encouraged by the years of ad hoc consideration of how to best handle the legislation that consents should be “permitted” under. This has meant that the “appropriateness” of a particular farm in a particular site may never have ever been assessed. Much has changed in the marine environment since the 1970’s and change is the one constant that can be depended on in the marine environment. No environmental limits or “carrying capacity” of the environment has been contemplated in the NES; despite the objective!

• “Inappropriate areas for aquaculture”: The NES states that the public, once the regulations are in place, will be able to participate in 2nd generation plan changes on where councils should assign areas as being “inappropriate” for marine farming….. but if the NES is in place and councils must make plan changes that comply with the regulations then all of the existing farms will already have “restricted discretionary” status which is tantamount to being able to stay in perpetuity! No public/community involvement.

• “Certainty”: The NES has been written to provide “certainty” for the aquaculture industry and its investors, but not for the general public over an area of the public domain that cannot be “owned”. The discussion document admits that public input has been useful but then proceeds to exclude just those opportunities.

• Effects on biodiversity – “token” points relate to management practices to minimise (not avoid) “marine mammal and seabird interactions – particularly entanglement, but not habitat exclusion”! The resting, feeding and breeding places of for instance seabirds are ignored, as well as areas for fishing breeding e.g. elephant fish. All “restricted discretionary activities and Categories 3 & 4 (change to fed finfish species) only require “management practices” to minimise marine mammal and seabird “interactions” – not avoidance.

• Effects on benthos – again token words relate to “reefs and biogenic habitats” and “benthic values and the seabed” with qualifiers added such as “significant”. The vulnerability of certain areas of other areas/habitats/ecosystems is ignored.

• Ability to have “more stringent or lenient activity classification”. This statement is very questionable…. and singularly unhelpful. When and how does a council make such a decision when its” rights” have been overcome by this NES and there is no Schedule 1 process to get public/scientific input? Again the assumptions are made that plans adequately identify import “values” and “characteristics”.

• Sites of “particular importance” to the industry. No indication of what criteria will be used for identification of such sites or what rights do the public have for objection? The example given, Wainui Bay, Golden Bay has been subject to many objections over many years, is in an area of ONFL, and is outside of AMAs established in Golden Bay as a consequence of a significant enquiry and Environment Court case. An appeal against a plan change to make these a “controlled” activity – that is no decline is possible, is currently underway.

Submission
Go to https://www.mpi.govt.nz/news-and-resources/consultations/proposed-national-environmental-standard-for-marine-aquaculture/ for the Discussion Document and proposed regulations. Read the proposals. Submissions are due by 5pm, Tuesday 8 August 2017.

Helen Campbell is a Friends of Nelson Haven & Tasman Bay committee member with an interest RMA coastal planning issues

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ECO Submission Summary: Biosecurity 2025.

The Ministry for Primary Industries released a discussion document on directions for biosecurity in New Zealand and called for public comment.  You can read the discussion document here and ECO’s full submission on our website.

ECO reviewed and provided suggestions for the the Ministry for Primary Industries’ direction statement for biosecurity. The Ministry defined biosecurity as the exclusion, eradication, or effective management of risks posed by pests and diseases to the economy, environment, and human health. The document proposed 5 strategic directions for biosecurity in New Zealand, which are for all New Zealanders to participate in biosecurity, to invest in science and research to revolutionize biosecurity, to have free-flowing information highways, to work towards effective leadership and government, and to build a capable and sustainable workforce and infrastructure.

ECO agreed with the Ministry’s approach of widening the scope of biosecurity to include all New Zealanders. However, ECO noticed that there was no discussion in the proposition regarding who will pay for all of these biosecurity improvements and is wary of a “victim pays” approach. As a solution, ECO proposed a biosecurity import levy. ECO also noted that the document focused on plants and animals while overlooking fungi and micro-organisms which are also vital to New Zealand’s natural environment.

ECO suggested that the Ministry draws on literature and evidence about what inhibits pro-environmental behaviour in order to strategise actions that could change and harness these attitudes. On a related note, ECO was wary of the Ministry’s focus on investing in the sciences and suggested also engaging the social sciences. ECO also suggested caution regarding free-flowing information highways because many rural New Zealanders are protective of their privacy and this strategy could be interpreted as a loss of autonomy or privacy. In general, ECO agreed on all of the strategies proposed by the Ministry with some minor suggestions for improvement.

ECO Submission Summary: the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap

The Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment are working together to identify the areas of scientific knowledge which will be required by government over the next 20 years for decision-making for conservation and environmental policy and management.  This is known as the “roadmap”.

Submissions from interested groups and individuals were invited and ECO made a submission in response to the government discussion paper, which is on the DOC website.

We have summarised our submission below.  The full text of the ECO submission is available on the ECO website here.

Submission Summary:

ECO provided suggestions for improvements to the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap. The roadmap is a document outlining 12 topics related to environmental science and the ways in which the government, private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individuals can make positive decisions regarding the environment. ECO believes that regarding climate change, the listed goals are too weak and that the roadmap places too much emphasis on raising awareness. The roadmap should encourage a real programme of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emission, such as a goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 rather than the proposed 30% reduction.

While ECO understands the appeal of new environmental technology, it opposes carbon capture and storage because the environmental impacts are not fully known or understood and because it could be used as an excuse to not de-carbonize the economy. ECO also criticized the overarching goal of protecting “highest priority” populations as not being ambitious enough; by referring to some species as “highest priority” it implies giving up on others and this is unacceptable to ECO. ECO also notes that it supports the inclusion of Mātauranga Māori but cautions against the vigorous assertion of Maori property rights at the expense of the health of the environment itself.

Other topics covered in the roadmap included the ecosystems and processes of freshwater, land, coastal and marine, and urban environments as well as biosecurity, and the social and economic dimensions of conservation. In general, ECO felt that the roadmap was too sensitive and had too much “spin” and could benefit from being more blunt or direct. ECO also recommended the addition of topics such as the atmosphere, environmental legal and policy research, and the study of energy alternatives.

Summary written by ECO volunteer Adena Maier

Climate Change news

As ECO prepares for its annual conference in August, themed around climate change and water, we background some recent news stories on climate change issues.

Arctic sea ice falls to new low. Data published by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows that the Arctic sea ice was at historic low levels in May. Retreating ice is a problem because the exposed oceans absorb more heat rather than being reflected back into space.
Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was at the lowest level in 50 years this April.  Read more.

Warmest autumn in New Zealand since 1938. Niwa’s climate summary for autumn shows that the national average temperature for March, April and May this year was 1.4C above the autumn average, at 14.7C. Almost every climate station in New Zealand recorded higher than average temperatures for this time of year, which is attributed to warm seas to the west, some of the warmest seen in the last 100 to 130 years.  NIWA predicts an unusually warm winter also.

Successful trials converting CO2 to rock

A paper published in Science this month reports on successful trials in converting CO2 to rock and storing it underground in Iceland. The new method trialled works by dissolving CO2 in water to create sparkling water and then injecting it into basalt rocks 550m underground.  The CO2 cannot escape into the atmosphere because it is dissolved and cannot rise to the surface.
Such capture and storage methods may have to be part of the solution, if, as appears to be the case, we are entering runaway climate change.

Methane gas emissions at US natural gas plants under-reported – cover-up alleged

A not-for-profit in the US has alleged that a senior official in the US Environmental Protection Agency engaged in a cover-up of the true levels of methane emissions from fracking operations across the United States.
Other studies have shown much higher emissions levels but the EPA reports using the Bacharach measuring device always showed the emissions as lower – which the industry has used to justify their operations. The group NC WARN maintain that the senior EPA official has led an ongoing attempt to coverup the under-reporting by the Bacharach device. Read more.

 

In grateful memory: Bob Fantl

Founding ECO executive member Robert (Bob) Fantl has died in Wellington, aged 92. He brought the New Zealand Institute of Architects to the ECO table and worked closely with Dr Ian Prior, noted public health specialist, and Sir Alan Randall, heart specialist, and others who shared his passion for the environment and mountains.

Bob was a Holocaust survivor from the Kindertransport, and lost almost all of his family in the Holocaust.  He arrived in New Zealand in 1940 and with his sister made a new life here, raising a family in Wadestown, Wellington. Bob was amongst those who founded the Wellington Architectural Centre in 1946, a year when an independent New Zealand culture established a firmer footing, of which the Centre was a vital part.  He maintained close friends in and beyond the Wellington Jewish diaspora and was part of the European cultural influx that came with that.

Bob was a co-founder of ECO – then known as CoEnCo – in 1971, and served on its Executive until 1992.  He was Chair or Vice-chair in 1985-86.  With his professional office across the corridor from the ECO office, his kindly and willing presence was always there for ECO.  His primary interests were in establishing protected areas, protection of nature from threats, and in urban and domestic architecture and design.  He was a dedicated environmentalists, skier and tramper.

In his time on the ECO executive he pushed to retain Wellington’s natural and urban heritage, including opposition to the motorway cutting through the Bolton St cemetery. He led the successful effort to establish the  Environmentalist Memorial Garden at Bolton Street cemetery in Wellington, now maintained by Wellington City Council.

ECO people knew him as a kindly, calm and deeply caring and supportive person who strove to protect the environment and to maintain cultural values in the face of Think Big and other manifestations of Philistinism.  ECO’s executive sends its love and deep sympathy to Bob’s family and wide circle of friends.   Bob will be remembered as a tireless champion for the environment and for conservation.

 

  • written by Michael Pringle and Cath Wallace