26 October 2012

A mining stealth bomber attack on six tenths of the conservation estate

Or How to write a submission on the Crown Minerals Permitting and Crown Land Bill 2012 (the "CMPCB" for short)

Submissions can be made on the Crown Minerals Permitting and Crown Land Bill 2012 until midnight, 2 November 2012. This public service notice was brought to you by Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page.

The Crown Minerals Permitting and Crown Land bill sounds completely eye-wateringly BORING, doesn't it? Yet this bill, if it is passed in it's current form, will have the same effect as re-classifying some 60% of New Zealand's conservation areas from protection to exploitation. The bill is really a sneaky mining stealth attack on conservation areas, after the Government's failure with it's Schedule 4 frontal assault back in 2010.

The Schedule 4 debate in 2010 was over a Government proposal for more mining in some 8,000 hectares of conservation land. The particular conservation areas were all listed in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.

Were you surprised to find out that only some 40% of New Zealand's conservation areas have absolute protection from mining? And that protection was not because of the National Parks Act or the Conservation Act. It was through a section of the Crown Minerals Act and a schedule listing of National Parks and other areas in 'Schedule 4' of the Crown Minerals Act - the Act that provides for extraction of minerals.

In March 2010, Gerry Brownlee proposed (on behalf of the 'National Growth Agenda' and the minerals and mining industries) to remove some conservation areas from this Schedule 4. The legal status - conservation park, reserve, or national park - would not change. But the areas would then be legally open for mining access via the Minister of Conservation's approval given under the Crown Minerals Act.

Which is the (rat shit) status quo for the 60% of conservation areas managed by the Department of Conservation (including all conservation stewardship areas)

A mining company can apply at anytime to the Minister of Conservation (currently Kate Wilkinson) for mining access. The Minister cannot accept an application for access to areas listed on Schedule 4. But all other conservation areas, 60% of the total, are fair game. Ostensibly the Minister, in deciding on mining access, must only consider conservation objectives, plans, policies, effects and mitigation and "other matters" (S 61B of the CMA 1991). However, my prime example of how this works in practice is the Labour Government's Chris Carter approving the Pike River Coal Mine in 2004.

After 40,000 people marched down Queens Street in protest and 37,000 people submitted against the idea, the Government said it was backing down and no areas would be removed from Schedule 4 list.

However, the Government thinks that the 2010 Schedule 4 debate is long enough ago to re-interpret the wishes of the thousands of marchers and submitters as supporting a quicker faster streamlined and simplified easier-for-miners access to the other 60% of conservation areas. That is what the Crown Minerals Permitting and Crown Land Bill is all about.

The main way the bill makes it easier for miners is to stop having the Minister of Conservation making the mine access by decision herself. And to stop the decision being mainly on conservation grounds. Instead the bill proposes that mining access will be a joint decision of the Ministers of Energy and Conservation. And the joint decision is to be guided by a new economic benefit test, as well as the land-holding objectives.

How might this change pan out? National always say they are into striking a 'balance' between economic and environmental objectives. And the conservation objectives are still there. To that I say "Get real!"

National and their Ministers are plainly biased towards development. For example, Steven Joyce used a Government press release and a TV ONE Breakfast appearance to breach the 'sub judice' rule when he strongly took the side of miner Bathurst Resources over the Escarpment Mine consents court cases.

Alternatively, lets look and listen to the present Minister of Energy, Craig Heatley on TV3 being egged on by Rachel Smalley, Alex Tarrant John Hartevelt to again take the side of Bathurst Resources. Smalley seems to be choking up when she says "Does the Resource Management Act essentially allow environmentalists to delay delay delay something like this going forward?"

This proposal sucks so much. We charge the Minister of Conservation and the Department of Conservation with managing these areas for their conservation and protection under an act called the Conservation Act (as well as a few other acts). The whole point of conservation areas is that they are legally protected from economic development because it usually harms the native plants and animals and their habitats and landforms. They are to come first. Thats what conservation means. With mining, the native plants and animals and their habitats and landforms are completely destroyed. There is no economic activity as absolutely in conflict with the conservation of nature as mining.

So what is the point of having the majority of conservation areas legally protected for conservation purposes when that protection allows mining to be permitted on the grounds of economic benefit, as jointly assessed by the 'Minister of Mines'?

So I suggest you make a submission opposing this bill via Parliament's website

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