Forest & Bird warns Government could use draconian new powers to push through coal mining

Forest & Bird is warning that draconian new powers the government has given itself under the Resource Management Act, or even new special legislation, could be used to push through controversial new coal mining plans.

Last week, Forest & Bird revealed secret mining plans for high value conservation land on the West Coast’s Buller plateaux, being worked on by the Ministers of Conservation, Business, and Energy. Plans include an open cast mine at Whareatea West, an area with extremely high biodiversity values on the Denniston plateau.

“The Environment Court has already suggested that existing coal mining on the Denniston plateau has pushed up against environmental limits,” says Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell.

In March 2013, the Environment Court made an interim decision to grant Bathurst Resources resource consent for their Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau, following a case taken by Forest & Bird.

However, the Court said in its ruling that the case was “So finely balanced . . . that while our present inclination is to grant consent, much will ultimately turn on whether appropriate conditions can be worked out. . .”[1]

“Therefore, to exceed environmental limits, the government is likely to use its brand new powers under the RMA - or even look at special legislation – in order to circumvent a fair and open process that would involve full public participation.”

The changes to the RMA, passed just last month, involve the reduction in opportunities for public participation, including limiting appeal rights.

Equally concerning are new powers to prohibit and override council planning provisions, and substantial powers designed to centralise control in the hands of the Minister, including a new mechanism for fast tracking big projects.

“The government has dramatically politicised the planning process,” says Mr Hackwell.

“We are concerned that we are about to see fast, poorly made decisions based on political expediency and a desire to satisfy the Government’s industry mates.”

“When there is so much at stake – for threatened species, for the climate, for future generations –that is a very worrying situation indeed.”

Photos of Whareatea West and a map of the area can be found here.

[1] Paragraph 335; page 115; NZEnvC 047; 27 March 2013

Background notes: 
•    Forest & Bird believes the Government is opening up new opportunities to mine on public conservation land for Solid Energy’s new owners BT Coal, a joint venture between Bathurst Resources and Talley’s Group.
•    The Bathurst-owned Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau went ahead after a lengthy court battle, but was mothballed in 2016 due to a major user - Holcim Cement - moving away from the West Coast, and falling coal prices.