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Huntly farce proves law not working

9 October, 2003

Huntly farce proves law not working

In the wake of the Huntly coal mine debacle, the Green party is urging the Minister for the Environment to amend the Resource Management Act (RMA) to allow a review of council notification decisions by the Environment Court.

That provision was introduced by Simon Upton in the 1999 Amendment Bill and Labour and the Greens agreed to support it. It was removed from the Bill by the Labour Government a few months ago with the assistance of the anti-environment United Future party.

At the same time "limited notification" was introduced, further shutting out public participation. Now these provisions have enabled Solid Energy and Environment Waikato to deny public input on a huge new open-cast coal mine.

"By ruling that the environmental effects of the new mining operation were 'minor', Environment Waikato allowed Solid Energy to get away with only notifying immediate neighbours and 'local' groups," Green Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

"Environment Minister Marion Hobbs told Parliament yesterday that if Forest and Bird had had a 'local' group, then she would have expected it to be notified. The news for Marion is: they have three local groups - Waikato, Franklin and Thames-Coromandel - and they weren't notified.

"The Greens warned that the combined effect Labour-United's changes would be the exclusion of the public, more wealth for a few business people, and a poorer environment.

"It is appalling that watchdog environment groups can be excluded from giving input into crucial decisions that have major effects on New Zealand. Contrary to Environment Waikato's ruling, there is nothing 'minor' about the latest Huntly hole.

"They want to excavate a hole almost as big as Wellington's Mt Victoria. Would Marion Hobbs consider the removal of Mt Victoria a 'minor' project? How many people in her Wellington Central electorate would she want notified? Would they agree with her statement in the House today that 'size doesn't matter?'

"The High Court has ruled a number of times that councils are judging environmental effects to be 'minor' when they are not," said MS Fitzsimons. "But even if a group wins such a case at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, the High Court cannot reverse the original decision or provide any redress. And by then the hole will be dug.

"The Minister must allow these decisions to be properly reviewed, and overturned if necessary, by the Environment Court."


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