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Environmental group takes NZ Coal Company to Court

Environmental group takes NZ Coal Company to Court

Media Release
Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc

The Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC) Incorporated is filing proceedings for two court cases, a case in the Environment Court (today) and a judicial review (Monday 17th July), aimed at stopping the Government-sponsored extinction of a species of native land snail.

"While the people of New Zealand are increasingly concerned about climate change, the Labour Government is expanding coal mines into nationally significant wetlands, prime kiwi habitat, and the only home of Powelliphanta 'Augustus'," said SHVC Inc spokesperson Frances Mountier.

"It's immoral, irresponsible, it breaches our international biodiversity obligations, and it's short sighted in the extreme."

In April 2006 the Ministers of Conservation and Energy granted state-owned coal miner Solid Energy permission to mine 94% of the remaining 5 ha of habitat of Powelliphanta "Augustus". The Government's own scientists say this is likely to lead to the extinction of the species.

SHVC Inc is seeking a judicial review of the Ministers' decision in the High Court (filing Monday) and will also file proceedings at the Environment Court in Christchurch today (at 10am) seeking an enforcement order to stop the coal company from mining the snail's habitat.

"We're a grassroots organisation, funded entirely by donations from members of the public. To take a large Government-owned company to court is a large undertaking. However, the Labour Government's disregard for the environment is in this case so extreme that we feel we have been left with no other options for protecting New Zealand biodiversity and the global climate system."

Members of the public can donate to the campaign at www.savehappyvalley.org.nz



The initial press release on the Environment Court can be found here "Snails go back to Court; June 30th 2006" http://www.savehappyvalley.org.nz/pressreleases/pr_30-06-06_shvc.htm

1. This matter has not been considered under the RMA

2. In December 2005 The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society sought and won a declaration from the High Court that protected species, such as these snails, are protected even when they live on coal mining licence land.

3. The main part of the population of Powelliphanta "Augustus" lives on less than 5 hectares of land. Solid Energy was forced, by Forest and Bird's High Court declaration, to apply to the Ministers of Conservation and Energy for permits to move these snails before they mine their habitat.

4. Scientific evidence was presented to the Ministers to help make a decision. The following are quotes taken from that evidence:

a) The Department of Conservation's recommendation to the Minister concluded: "If a decision to grant the application is made, the Department has serious reservations as to whether the proposed mitigation package will protect the snail population".
b) In March 2006, the Biodiversity Committee of New Zealand's leading scientific academy, The Royal Society, put out a statement: "From the point of view of biodiversity, we would recommend that you take the ideal, courageous and responsible decision that only the Minister of Conservation can make, i.e. to protect this unique species, by preventing the relocation of the snails and stopping the destruction of their original habitat."
c) An independent review of the DOC science by Professor T. New of Latrobe University, Melbourne, found that "the only option with high likelihood of retaining the snail population is absolute protection of the remaining habitat and its surrounds, the last to buffer against any foreseeable disturbance or contamination."

5. In April 2006 the Ministers of Conservation and Energy granted a Wildlife permit to relocate 94% of the population of Powelliphanta "Augustus". It is over this decision that the Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc is seeking a judicial review.

6. The remaining 6% of the population, some of which is on conservation land, will be subject to rockfall as the ridgeline is 'deconstructed' with blasting and heavy machinery. DOC has granted a concession to Solid Energy to drop the equivalent of several truckloads (270 tonnes) of rock at a time onto the conservation estate, without regard for the snails living there.

7. While Chris Carter has imposed some conditions on the relocation of the snails these are insufficient to save the species from extinction. For example, the area the snails are to be relocated to will only hold 85 individuals, far short of the minimum viable population of 250.

8. DNA studies by Massey University have confirmed that Powelliphanta "Augustus" is a separate species which diverged from its closest relative more than 1.5 million years ago.

9. Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc has been campaigning to save Powelliphanta "Augustus", and has been actively involved in raising public awareness at Mt Augustus.

10. Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc is working stop the proposed open-cast coal mine in Happy Valley which is also on the Stockton Plateau and only 4 km from Mt Augustus.

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