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Minister downplaying a real threat to NZ rivers

29 July 2004

Minister trying to downplay a real threat to NZ rivers

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says she wishes she could agree with the Energy Minister's assertion that her fears for New Zealand's rivers are groundless but the evidence is in his Government's hydro report.

The Ministry of Economic Development's newly released 'Water Bodies of National Importance' report and its subsidiary 'Identification of Potential Hydroelectric Resources' (see http://www.med.govt.nz/ers/environment/water-bodies/index.html) consider the general suitability of all New Zealand rivers and lakes for hydro development and lists 65 specific projects.

"The original investigation was a 'scoping' exercise, but this report represents the Ministry of Economic Development's judgement on the findings of that research," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's Energy and Conservation Spokesperson.

"It specifically lists 65 projects which are 'Hydropower Opportunities... with High to Medium Confidence of Proceeding in the Next 20 Years.' That term is throughout the report in the title of tables listing the projects in each regionally specific chapter. Why would you use such words if you don't mean to push ahead with trying to make them happen? Are public servants preparing such wish lists just to pass the time and gobble up taxpayers' money? We all know that once a report like this gains credence the ball begins to roll.

"In his media release last night, the Minister suggests this report simply serves the same purpose as an assessment of the country's coal potential. But where are the Government reports gathering together research on New Zealand's wind energy potential? Which options the MED is choosing to explore reveals much about their underlying assumptions and priorities.

"Mr Hodgson may well be correct that each of these proposals will need to clear many hurdles before the concrete starts to pour, but the point the Greens are making is that, even if the RMA is not amended, this report judges that the listed rivers and lakes are available for damming or diverting before 2024. If a stronger 'national interest' clause is inserted into the RMA as a result of Labour's current review or if the RMA is scrapped altogether by a National Government there will be very little to stop all 65 projects proceeding.

"Furthermore, this report contains some worrying precedents for environmental law. It specifically says Water Conservation Orders can be lifted if needed and the Conservation Act can be amended to allow projects in the conservation estate, such as the proposed Dobson Dam on the West Coast, to proceed. Most New Zealanders would be alarmed to learn that such legislative protections for their environment can be swept aside when they are no longer convenient.

"This is why the Greens believe that this 'Water Bodies of National Importance' report is ultimately about what sort of country New Zealand is going to be in twenty, fifty and a hundred years time; a clean, green model of sustainable development or just another soulless, pillaged and overdeveloped branch office of Western industrialism. We are at the crossroads, " said Ms Fitzsimons.


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