RMA report threatens your environment
Thu, 12 Aug 2004
RMA report threatens your environment, your rights and your verandah
Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says a newly revealed Environment Ministry paper intensifies fears that the environmental purpose of the Act will be changed to speed up economic development.
Forest and Bird today released 'RMA Review: Detail of Final Package', an Environment Ministry document which it accessed under the Official Information Act.
"This paper refers specifically to changing the fundamental Part 2 of the Act to provide for the 'national interest' which it defines as economic interest. However it leaves all the detail about how to a later paper, saying only that the clause which protects native vegetation and habitat is to be changed.
"Part Two of the RMA defines the philosophy against which all consent decisions are supposed to be tested: that of 'sustainable management of the natural and physical resources' which 'enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being'.
"If these principles are changed, not only will the environment be at risk, but thirteen years and many volumes of RMA case law will be up for revision, which will hold up not just the big controversial projects but also people's verandas and garages," said Ms Fitzsimons.
"As well as weighting the decision making away from the environment, the paper proposes changing the process to reduce public participation. Ministers are advised to adopt a Local Government New Zealand proposal for a special committee to hear applications for "national interest" projects with no right of appeal to the Environment Court.
"The underlying message is that if the Government wants a project and it is very big, it should have less scrutiny from the surrounding community than others.
"A notable omission is the issue of the Environment Court being able to review public notification decisions," said Ms Fitzsimons.
"Amongst what the paper does say, I am concerned that local communities may not be able to set environment standards that are higher than those required nationally. The Greens do support National Environment Standards because they would provide certainty to participants and security for the environment, but such mechanisms should be a floor, not a ceiling. Why shouldn't communities be able set specific local standards to protect their lifestyles and environment-dependent industries such as tourism?
"We are also opposed to the suggestion that council hearings be made more formal so that ordinary people will find it very hard to make a submission to a council without a lawyer or expert witness. This runs contrary to the principle of public participation," said Ms Fitzsimons.