29 March 2010

Environment Canterbury's RMA heresy

Claire Browning of the Pundit blog, asked some follow-up questions on my long comment on the Creech Report on Environment Canterbury and its performance in managing Canterbury's water resources. Claire's questions are in italics.

"I found it (the Creech Report) cavalier in documenting its justification for dismembering a democratically elected body"

Yes I agree totally. The report has large portions that are just a grab-bag of embittered comments from district councils and consultants.

"on the question of whether ECan had been misapplying the RMA, the discussion was very muddled, and the evidence presented very thin".

Yes again I agree with that too. The Creech Report is an inherently political document. Kennedy Graeme's speech, as well as being enjoyably eloquent, was pretty much right in referring to it's circular logic and preconceived conclusion. A contact informed me that the review team arrived late for their day at Ecan and left early.

I think Creech and Doug Martin, who is a very experienced operator-around-politicians, knew they had a 'rush-job' on. I think they also knew that Nick Smith and Rodney Hide didn't really want detailed analysis. It would have been wasted on them! I think they also knew that whatever they recommended, Smith would probably not follow it any way (Remember the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance?).

So I think they deliberately gave Nick Smith an extreme recommendation (or a "hatchet job") which would give him the justification and the space to do whatever he wants to. As whatever Smith decides will appear well within the scope of the Creech recommendations and therefore more 'balanced' and 'moderate'.

"I would have thought the job is to protect the environment in accordance with the RMA, which would seem to be the real bone of contention -- ie, whether there has been an undue or improper focus on the environment by ECan, in terms of the RMA"

You make a good point here. This comes back to what "in accordance with the RMA" means to the various actors in the tragedy!

The Creech Report RMA experts are almost as vicious as Creech about Ecan's "improper focus on the environment". That is because Bryan Jenkins (and therefore Ecan) has committed a heresy against RMA orthodoxy. Jenkins stated that Ecan has not been able to apply sustainability limits to groundwater because the RMA is 'enabling legislation' (Rather than because the NRRP is as helpful as the Book of Mormon. Or because Ecan's senior planner and senior hydrogeologist were poor witnesses).

RMA orthodoxy, as espoused by the MfE Commissioners course and by RMA lawyers, planners and consultants, is 'weak sustainability rules okay'. For Jenkins to say otherwise is a heresy against the RMA mainstream. Jenkins also publicly and explicitly criticised a decision of a hearing panel - the decision to approve more groundwater abstraction from the arguably over-allocated Rakaia-Selwyn groundwater zone. Also heretical.

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