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Strategy to improve hazardous substances work

25 June 2003 Media Statement

Strategy to improve hazardous substances work

The government has released a plan to reduce the cost of complying with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act without compromising safety and the environment.

Environment Minister, Marian Hobbs said the HSNO Act was an innovative way of regulating hazardous substances. The hazardous substances part of the act came into force in July 2001, replacing a variety of laws regulating dangerous chemical goods.

"But because it was a new approach there have been some areas where it doesn't work as well as it should," Marian Hobbs said. "The Hazardous Substances Strategy released today will put that right."

The strategy is a comprehensive package to simplify the transfer process for existing substances, reduce application costs for new substances and improve the compliance and enforcement of HSNO.

"The strategy will directly address the concerns raised in a HSNO costs survey of businesses and research groups released today by my colleague John Tamihere," Marian Hobbs said.

The main change is that the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) – the agency that decides on applications to import, develop, or manufacture hazardous substances in New Zealand – will have more flexibility to base its decisions on the actual risk posed by a particular substance or group of substances.

"ERMA will have the means to assess low-risk applications more quickly and efficiently than currently," the minister said. "As a result, costs to applicants will be reduced substantially. These changes will encourage newer, safer chemicals into New Zealand – tilting the playing field in favour of cleaner and greener substances."

Changes are also proposed to speed up the transfer of hazardous substances from controls made under old legislation to controls made under HSNO.

"Simplifying the transfer process is a key element of the strategy," the minister said. "The sooner substances are transferred, the simpler it will be for people. We intend to implement these changes to HSNO by early next year."

The strategy also proposes to strengthen the enforcement role of ERMA, and changes to the Act clarify the part played by territorial authorities and regional councils, in monitoring compliance with the law and enforcement where there have been breaches.

Major changes to the hazardous substance approval process will be the subject of a public discussion document due to be released in November.

The proposals are quite separate from amendments, currently before Parliament, to the way HSNO operates for new organisms, including genetically modified organisms.

Copies of the Hazardous Substances strategy can be viewed on: www.mfe.govt.nz


Additional Background

The Hazardous Substances Strategy: Changes in enforcement

The Hazardous Substances Strategy envisages both short- and long-term initiatives to clarify and strengthen the law regarding enforcement and compliance

SHORT TERM ACTION

The government has agreed that ERMA should play a more central role in directing and coordinating enforcement agency activities. This includes ensuring:
- enforcement agencies have the capacity to enforce HSNO effectively
- business and individuals comply with the law
- there is sufficient expertise and resources to deal with emergencies.

The capacity and role of territorial authorities will be a key focus of ERMA’s coordination activity.

The funding required for this is currently being reviewed and an announcement is expected within the next three months. ERMA will then work with territorial authorities and other enforcement agencies to ensure effective working partnerships are developed and maintained.

LONGER TERM OUTCOMES

The government has agreed to amend HSNO to:
- Include regional councils in enforcement agencies in recognition of their environmental expertise and to complement their current role under the Resource Management Act (RMA; and
- Clarify and expand the role of territorial authorities under HSNO, for example in the area of emergency response, emergency planning and Hazardous Substances Technical Liaison Committees (HSTLCs)

The details of these two proposals have not been determined and will be developed with local government and enforcement agencies during September/October 2003. A public discussion document will then be produced to allow wider consultation on the proposals. The discussion paper is due out in November 2003.

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