Government Searches For Way Around Regulations On Coal Mining

Forest and Bird, says newly released documents show the government is working on “secret” plans to get around environmental protections to enable contentious coal mining.

The documents, released to the environmental NGO through the Official Information Act (OIA), reveal that current Finance Minister and former Economic Development Minister, Steven Joyce, is interested in creating special economic zones that would have special “regulatory relief”.

One zone concerns the Buller Plateau and would allow the government to circumvent investment, conservation and immigration regulations. It would also allow the government to provide tax breaks for favoured developers, take conservation and private land, and fast-track consenting rules.

Despite the down-turn Australasia’s mining industry has faced, and a general preference for alternative energy, these documents show the government is still exploring options for coal mining and is doing so without public consultation.

Forest and Bird Cchief Executive, Kevin Hague, says, “We’re talking about zones where normal environmental, social and democratic safeguards don’t apply.”

One set of internal documents from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show that current MBIE minister, Simon Bridges, has renewed the plans set in motion by Joyce in 2016.

Documents also show the MBIE has been instructed to investigate other ways at speeding up the consenting process for new mines ion the West Coast. Elsewhere, however, coal mines have been closing and jobs disappearing, including in Waikato, Southland and the West Coast.

Bridges has rejected Forest and Bird’s claims, saying that the special economic zones are a complex topic of consideration within the ministry. "They are trying to paint this in a very simplistic and therefore misleading way as a bulldozer to the current laws - it is not that."

Since 2008, when the National-led government came to power, the governmenty has been attempting to mirror Australia’s then-successful mining industry. The government started by expanding MBIE’s petroleum and minerals office, directing them to investigate options that would free the industry from Resource Management Act and the Overseas Investment Act restrictions.

Oil and gas haves also become a big energy issues. Parallel to the constant debate on Resource Management Act reform, the government made block offers for oil and gas to corporations such as Anadarko, a decision that proved controversial in 2016, attracting protests and lobbying action from environmental groups. Eventually, the Texan oil giant, along with Brazil’s Petrobras scaled back its exploration plans.

Earlier this year, the government renewed efforts to allow oil and gas exploration. In March, Energy Minister Judith Collins, announced a new block offer near Fiordland National Park, which industry experts say is under explored. 

This article first appeared in Issue 15, 2017.
Posted 11:45am Sunday 16th July 2017 by George Elliott.