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Just a minor coal mine...

Just a minor coal mine...

The Green Party is warning that Environment Waikato's decision not to allow any public input into its decisions on a massive increase in coal mining signals a dangerous exclusion of environmental issues from Government decisions.

Solid Energy, a state owned enterprise, has used the recent "limited notification" amendment to the Resource Management Act, forced through by Labour a few months ago with the support of United, to limit scrutiny of its expanded Rotowaro mine, near Huntly, to just 17 neighbouring landowners.

"The Greens fought tooth-and-nail against the RMA amendment," Green Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today. "We warned that the new notification procedure would make it much harder for people to find out what developments are being planned for their communities and to have a say in what happens. At the time, the Minister said it was for projects like minor extensions to buildings.

"But we always said it was inevitable that companies with no personal stake in the environment or local community would use 'limited notification' to secretly push through projects that they know would engender enormous opposition from people who do care about their surroundings.

"What is particularly disturbing about this case is how Environment Waikato could possibly designate a doubling of operations at the Huntly mine as having no more than 'minor effects' on the environment, allowing Solid Energy to qualify for limited notification.

"This meant that groups representing the public interest and the health of the environment, such as Forest and Bird and Greenpeace, were not allowed to make submissions at all.

"If the effects on the environment and the neighbourhood of a 225 hectare-wide, 100 metre-deep coal mine are 'minor', then what qualifies as a 'major' project?" Ms Fitzsimons asked. "The answer to that, we learned a few weeks ago, is going to be: whatever Jim Anderton decides is of 'national significance.'

"Not content with cutting communities and environmentalists out of 'minor' decision-making the Government is now planning to drive a tractor through the RMA by handing decisions on fast tracking 'Think Big' projects to Mr Anderton, further reducing public scrutiny.

"What will be left for the public to comment on? Only a few projects deemed to be "middle sized", or not favoured by the Government," said Ms Fitzsimons. "We are heading back to the pre-RMA days when big government projects were allowed to pre-empt democracy and the environment.

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