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Govt. Plans To Cap Local Environmental Standards

20 September 2004 - Wellington

FOREST AND BIRD MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

Govt. Plans To Cap Local Environmental Standards

Local councils may have to weaken environmental protections under the Government's proposed changes to the RMA.

In response to a question from a forest industry representative at this morning's RMA meeting in Wellington, Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope confirmed that the Government was considering making some national environmental standards 'absolutes' to stop local communities from setting higher standards than the Government.

"The effect of this change will be to require environmentally conscious councils to water down their district plans to comply with Government edicts on the appropriate level of environmental protection," said Forest and Bird Spokesperson Geoff Keey who attended the meeting.

"If local communities don't believe that the Government has set a high enough standard, they should be able to set their own," he said.

"Given that the Government has made infrastructure, energy and energy resources its priority for national environmental standards and policy statements, communities with concerns about roads, prisons, power stations and coal mining had better watch out," he said.

"This proposal is one of the most insidious changes to emerge from the review," he said.

"It was a bit rich for RMA Minister David Benson-Pope to talk about voting in councillors who would set appropriate environmental standards while telling people the Government would regulate to prevent councils from setting stronger environmental rules than the Government," he said.

"We hope the Government will rethink its approach on national environmental standards and abandon this proposal as it is not consistent with principles of local decision making and good environmental outcomes," he said.

Note:

Relevant text from review document:

National policy statements

The Government proposes to develop national policy statements and national environmental standards. This is already provided for in the RMA but has not been used to date to articulate the national interest.

The first priorities will be for statements and standards on infrastructure, for example:

* energy - electricity transmission, energy generation, energy resources

* telecommunications - services, lines, wires

* transport - roads, rail, airports, shipping and ports

* reticulated water and waste water.

National environmental standards

National environmental standards are intended to increase consistency across the country. In some cases they will be able to apply absolutely, or to require councils to show that it is necessary if they want to set standards that are stricter.


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