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War On Nature 2.0

The Government’s war on nature enters its next phase today with the tabling of the Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. The changes have been previously signalled but there has been no precursor consultation.

This Bill is the first of 2 amendments to the RMA, with another to come later in the year. It will make the following changes to the principal Act and national direction made under it:

  • It will exclude the hierarchy of Te Mana o te Wai in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management from resource consenting processes until it is replaced
  • It seeks to “align” the consenting pathway for coal mining with other mineral extraction
  • It removes council obligations to identify new significant natural areas for 3 years
  • It amends the Resource Management (Stock Exclusion) Regulations 2020 in relation to sloped land
  • It repeals the permitted and restricted discretionary activity regulations, and associated conditions, for intensive winter grazing from freshwater national environmental standards
  • It makes amendments to “speed up” the process to prepare or amend national direction under the RMA

“These changes, on top of the Fast-track Approvals Bill, represent a further attempt by the Coalition Government to reduce environmental protections and enable development at all costs,” said EDS CEO Gary Taylor

“The changes to identification of significant natural areas is a signal of more weakening of protections for indigenous biodiversity to come.

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“Removing key standards for intensive winter grazing will have significant ramifications not just for environmental impacts on freshwater and soil but also for animal welfare. MPI is quite open about the fact that poor practice here has been of concern. These changes will be a retrograde step.

“Removing Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy for consenting is also concerning, as it tells us the health of our waterways and basic human health needs are no longer the first concern when there are tensions with economic benefits. This reinforces the need for councils to continue with their freshwater planning processes apace. Once given effect to in a plan, the hierarchy will have to be had regard to in consenting.

“By aligning consenting pathways for coal mining, the Government is encouraging a proliferation of new coal mining activities, with no consideration of its climate implications.

“There are also concerning changes in the process for repealing or amending National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards. The independent Board of Inquiry process is to be scrapped, in favour of the more flexible approach that has been in the RMA since 2017. We view this with unease. But the bigger concern lies in a replacement for section 32.

“The evaluation report required for national direction will be extremely weak compared to that required for council plans, creating a double standard. There will no longer be a requirement to look at whether the objectives of the proposal are the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of the RMA, or to assess the risks of acting or not acting if there is uncertainty in information. In other words, the precautionary principle is out the window.

“The Bill will be referred to a Select Committee and once again environmental groups will have to prepare submissions, organise protests, liaise with affected iwi and build on the groundswell of resistance to the Government’s continuing attempts to cause harm to our natural world.

“There is more to come. The next amendment bill is likely to be much worse than this one. The Minister for RM Reform has invited allcomers to propose more changes to the Act - and goodness knows what that process will lead to. But it will not be good for our environment,” Mr Taylor concluded.

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