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RMA Bill Reported Back With A Focus On Climate Change

The Resource Management Amendment Bill has been reported back from select committee with a number of changes including emphasising the ability of councils to take into account climate change policy.

Despite the wheels of government being significantly slowed, the Environment Committee has reported back the RMA Bill and recommended by majority it pass with a number of amendments, many of a technical nature.

National MPs on the committee put in a dissenting opinion saying the Bill should not progress. They believe changes to the RMA should await the wider review underway. They also specifically pointed to the climate change clauses as a source of concern and uncertainty.

This bill is the first stage of proposed changes to the resource management system. It seeks to reduce complexity in existing RMA processes, increase certainty and restore previous opportunities for public participation.

It also puts in a new process for freshwater management plans aimed at implementing new water quality standards in a tight time frame, these standards are currently being finalised.

The committee has made a number of changes in all of these areas and these are covered elsewhere in Energy and Environment this week.

Part of the committee’s report is on climate change issues with MPs saying they had a significant number of submissions on the issue, and how the RMA interacts with climate change policy.

In 2004 changes to the RMA explicitly ruled out most instances of councils considering the effects on climate change when making rules or assessing applications relating to discharges of greenhouse gases.

The public policy argument for this at the time was that climate change impacts and mitigation were best dealt with at a national level rather than individual impacts judged by councils.

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act expressly permits decision-makers acting under other legislation to take into account statutory emissions targets, emissions budgets, and emissions reduction plans made under that law.

The majority on the Environment Committee said this conflicts with the express provisions in the RMA. While the RMA’s role as part of climate change policy is being considered as part of the wider RMA system review currently under way “some of us think that this bill should explicitly remove statutory barriers to consideration of climate change in decision-making under the RMA. However, it would be important to allow sufficient time to prepare for these changes.”

The committee recommends amending the RMA to add “emissions reductions plans” and “national adaptation plans” to the list of matters local authorities must have regard to when making and amending regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans.

They recommend 31 December 2021 as the commencement date for this to ensure there is sufficient time to make policy arrangements

“Otherwise, there could be risks of inconsistencies, overlap of regulations between councils and emissions pricing, and litigation.”

National MPs wrote they did support the Bill. “It is the National Party view that this bill is not a suitable vehicle to bring about substantial change to the RMA including introducing climate change obligations into RMA decision making without adequate public consultation nor costings… The National Party is of the view that any substantive changes to the RMA should be made with a full understanding of the expert panel’s recommendations to avoid unnecessary additional disruption to current users of the RMA processes. The National Party is concerned that this bill will add further cost, uncertainty, and delay to RMA processes at a time when there is an accepted need by many that the processes are serving neither the environment nor development.”

First published in Energy and Environment on April 2, 2020.

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