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Bunkle Speech To NZ Chemical Industry Council

The Hon Phillida Bunkle Acting Minister for the Environment

Keynote speech to the NZ Chemical Industry Council Annual Conference

National Library
Wellington
1 June

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am well aware that your organisation and I have not often seen eye to eye on issues. In fact, it wasn't so long ago, that one of your own representatives shouted me down at a pre-election forum when I voiced my concerns about the effects of your work on human health and the environment. I must admit that I am especially looking forward to having an attentive and quiet audience in you today!

I understand from looking at some of the material for today’s sessions, there is a strong theme around voluntary management of chemical substances and voluntary compliance methods.

I also understand that, with a new government in place since your last conference, there is considerable interest in this government’s views and priorities for environmental protection.

I will try to set out some of these latter matters. However before doing so I would like to say right up front that I am a person in favour of strong regulation to protect the environment. In my view, the history of environmental management generally, and perhaps the history of chemicals and hazardous substances particularly, has shown that unless the community does regulate, we face both real and potential environmental degradation.

I do not consider this acceptable and I suggest that none of you should consider this acceptable either. This is not someone else's problem.

That said, I know that your organisation and many of your leading members see it is unacceptable to conduct business in a way which puts human health and the environment at risk.

There is at least one major multi-national member of your Industry Council with a clear and publicly-stated objective of conducting business with zero accidents and zero impact on the environment. This company unapologetically states that this approach to business, is good business.

I wholeheartedly agree. In fact this government agrees. This zero-impact objective in effect sets the goal that all of you need to aim for.

A key plank of this government’s approach to business is a commitment to sustainable development. I can sum this up succinctly by quoting from what we have agreed, sustainable development is.

Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This means that we as a government intend to do three fundamental things:

 consider both the long term and short term consequences of what we do
 assess the indirect, as well as the direct, effects of our actions; and
 take special care with any changes where those changes might have irreversible consequences.

Combining these things with taking a broad approach to each of our objectives is a major change from a view of the world driven by short term and unsustainable contingencies.

This broad approach to the management of hazardous substances is an approach that puts the protection of human health and the environment uppermost. This government is proceeding with the commencement of the hazardous substances part of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act as soon as possible.

This is now largely a matter of completing the drafting of regulations. As those of you who have been involved in these processes will be aware, this does require considerable effort.

There are also practical difficulties around the fact that the government is also working through a major legislative programme in Parliament.

While it was originally envisaged that this drafting work would be completed for commencement around mid-year, it is apparent it could take up to another three months to get this basic set of regulations completed and implemented. I am disappointed by this situation, as I know my colleague the Hon Marian Hobbs is. But while the delays are frustrating, I'm sure I don't need to convince you of the need to undertake this work carefully, as quickly as permissible and, most importantly, effectively.

Completing this carefully integrated piece of legislation - with its stated objective of “protecting the environment and the health and safety of people and communities” - is something I see is complemented by the Council’s approach of integrating improving the industry’s actions on occupational safety, with those on environmental safety.

I would like to stress this point. The environment is as important in terms of human health and safety as looking directly after people’s immediate safety.
I encourage you to accept that the community will set regulatory standards and I urge you to focus on meeting and, wherever possible, exceeding those standards.

This is something that I know a number of leading members of this and similar organisations overseas have given public commitments to do. The translating of that commitment into demonstrable and verifiable results is something that from the standpoint of an environmental and particularly environmental health advocate, I would applaud.

This brings me to the matter of compliance. Some of you have asked that this area be improved. What this seems to mean is that those who are “good” performers face less inspection and those who are poor performers face more.

This is all very well but does need thorough and independent tests to demonstrate what is good performance. It's not enough to say that as a member of say, this organisation, you are performing well. There needs to be independent scrutiny to verify that this is the case.

Your “Responsible Care” programme and verification goes some way towards doing this but I emphasise the importance of having checks that are truly independent.

On the reverse side of this, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act does allow for large penalties for non-compliance.

I would remind you that the Act provides for both substantial fines and the risk of imprisonment for those who ignore the required standards. The Act can also require someone who mismanages a hazardous substance and makes a mess of the environment, to clean that mess up. These powers in the Act will I hope act as the necessary deterrent. But reaching the point where they need to be used is in reality a kind of failure, a failure to protect our health and the safety of the environment.

The government wants to see less environmental damage from hazardous substances, and in particular less risks to people, and to other living things from those substances that persist in the environment.

We must strive to have no more contaminated sites and no more instances of the chemical effects that sparked concerns about the environment almost thirty years ago – something I was reminded of this past weekend by a TV documentary looking at the plight of species such as the US national symbol, the bald eagle.

Another and complementary element of government action in this area is a clear focus on waste management.

In many ways, waste management is much better than a decade ago. For instance, the Hutt Valley's resource consent process has ensured there will be no more filtered raw sewage going straight into the ocean. We also now have at least some state-of-the-art landfills that are especially designed for the purpose, as opposed to waste being tipped willy-nilly into the nearest handy estuary or stream bed.

Unfortunately, this is not true everywhere. There are still too many places in New Zealand that don’t have adequate waste disposal, meaning there are still too many places where the environment and human health is affected. So we need to make sure that all disposal and treatment facilities come up to standard.

For the moment this effort is mainly through the development of guidelines, like the guidelines being developed by the Ministry for the Environment for landfill management. However it must be clear that if this doesn’t produce the desired improvement, we are prepared to try other, stronger ways.

Of particular concern is hazardous waste – the things that can cause immediate and long term damage to the environment and, of course, your and my health. At the moment, there is no clear picture of the amount of hazardous waste which is being stored, transported and disposed of all over New Zealand.

We do know that landfill operators find it arriving at their gates, unlabelled and often with no way of knowing where it came from. Further, although 80% of councils have trade waste by laws many of these are only designed to protect the pipes and plants rather than the environment.

I believe this is a very dangerous situation.

The Ministry will be developing an overall strategy detailing ways to make sure hazardous waste is properly managed from the moment it is created. One key element is to clearly define what hazardous waste really is, otherwise our efforts will not resolve the real problem. It seems likely that, given past performance in this area, regulation will be needed, especially when it comes to identification, storage, transport and disposal.

Used oil is a more specific example of this sort of problem. There is probably between 25 and 30 million litres of used oil available for collection each year. Some of this is well managed and some, to put it bluntly, is not.

As part of correcting this problem, I applaud the groups working actively with the Ministry and other stakeholders. I understand that these efforts have led to a draft Code of Practice for the management of used oil which should be produced within the month.

The Ministry will soon circulate a discussion document to help establish the options for dealing with used oil. I urge you to participate in the policy forming process in this area and emphasise that it is an issue where the Government wants to see progress made.

In conjunction with this, some of you who have not already done so may want to think about extending the “product stewardship” concept from the products which you produce, to include considering matters such as the fate of the used lubricating oil from your own vehicle fleets.

Until now, we have mainly dealt with waste at the “end-of the pipe”. But we have all given very little thought to trying to prevent the waste from being created in the first place. This government is committed to significantly reducing the waste stream, and you can expect to see a number of initiatives in this area in the near future.

Moving to consider the implementation of the Resource Management Act, the government has signalled a desire to provide greater guidance and assistance to local government to improve the operation of the Act. An area where this will happen is in the management of organochlorines.

Organochlorines include highly persistent substances such as dioxins, furans, PCBs, and a number of chlorinated pesticides, including DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane and pentachlorophenol.

While the particular chlorinated pesticides I have just mentioned are no longer used in New Zealand, and we have banned the use of PCBs, Ministry for the Environment work has shown there are organochlorine problems that need attention. The extreme persistence of these chemicals means that problems identified today remain problems for several decades unless actively managed. Overseas' experience demonstrates that risks can be dramatically reduced and more difficult problems avoided if controls and preventative strategies are adopted.

In the forthcoming year, a combination of national environmental standards and guideline criteria will be proposed for dioxins and PCBs. The purpose of these criteria is to protect human health and ecosystems by identifying reference limits for air, soil and water. The government will be consulting on these proposals, as well as on a proposed organochlorines management plan.

With respect to national environmental standards, the Resource Management Amendment Bill extends the scope of standards. In particular, the Bill explicitly allows standards to specify methods of implementation, exemptions and transitional provisions. Also, a proposed new section now clarifies the effect of a national environmental standard. The Act is silent on this at present.

We are also looking to take action on the climate change front. As was said in the Speech from the Throne at the opening of the new Parliament, New Zealand needs to improve its record in greenhouse gas control and its knowledge of the impact of climate change. The government has already shown political leadership in this area. For example, the Prime Minister recently announced the government's intention to ratify the Kyoto Protocol by June 2002, when the Rio Plus Ten Earth Summit meets.

Ratification in New Zealand will need to be preceded by passage of legislation and policy changes supporting a programme of emissions reduction in keeping with Kyoto targets.

New Zealand's target under the Kyoto Protocol is to hold emissions, on average, at 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The protocol does allow some flexibility in how we do this.

So what changes will be needed to make this happen? A carbon charge? A policy of no more fossil fuel generation? Specific targets for wind energy generation? Grid payments for embedded generation? They will all be considered as the government develops its climate change policy. In reality a mix of price and non-price measures will be required.

New Zealand's contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is not large, but the government is committed to reducing emissions. We depend on the emissions reductions of other countries to protect our climate – indeed we all depend on each other.

Finally I turn to the question of where the industry can improve its contribution to environmental management. There are two key areas that are very much industry responsibility, and one further area where industry good will and cooperation will be important.

Firstly as I am sure you would agree, too many hazardous substances have been put into use without the proper information for the hazards to be controlled. I understand the chemical industry is undertaking a major international effort to catch up and fill in this missing link. This is clearly an essential task and is really something which you as producers of the substances have the responsibility to do. For the future, I believe the HASNO Act will ensure that decisions about these substances will be based on all of the necessary information.

Secondly, more needs to be done to educate all those who use your products to handle them safely. By safely I mean so that both the people using them and the wider environment are properly protected. Historically it is the protecting of the environment that has been either totally ignored or at best dealt with in a halfhearted fashion. For example I don’t think it should be acceptable to say to your customers (as many of the present information sheets provided with your products do) “dispose of as directed by the local authorities.” This is sidestepping your responsibilities and needs to be improved upon. Before these substances are put into use workable methods need to be available for the disposal of unwanted material.

I would remind you that the HSNO Act will require every application for approval of a hazardous substance include, “information on the methods of disposal for the substance.” This information needs to be practical and workable in New Zealand.

I have already made reference to the “stewardship” type schemes promoted by this Council and its members - an excellent start but must extend to cover all hazardous substances from cradle to grave.

Thirdly, in implementing the hazardous substances part of the HASNO Act, there is a large job in transferring existing hazardous substances to the new framework. This is a big task and nobody, least of all those who will need to do the detailed work, imagines that it will be easy. The Amendment Bill before Parliament contains a provision extending the transitional period for the Act. This will allow transfer to happen in an orderly fashion. Nonetheless, the process will require everybody’s cooperation to be completed successfully. I urge this organisation to carry forward its objective of maintaining workplace safety and environmental health and work with ERMA in making this transfer a smooth and orderly process.

Let me conclude by wishing you a productive day’s deliberations and by recommending that you put the considerations of protection of human health and the environment where they belong, at centre stage.


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