16, Nov, 2012

Protected Areas jeopardised by Crown Minerals Bill

Category: ECO Inc

Media Release 16 November 2012

The Crown Minerals Bill will strip the Minister of Conservation of a whole lot of powers and hand them over to the economic ministers the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ said today.

“The Bill is a slap in the face for all the people who care about conservation,” ECO Co-Chairperson, Cath Wallace said.  “It gives exploration and mining a huge advantage over any other activity on conservation lands, yet is far more damaging than most.”

She was speaking after giving ECO’s submission to the Commerce Select Committee of Parliament.

“Instead of using the same grounds for consenting to tourism, recreation and filmmaking activities in protected areas, mining is given a super soft deal in the conservation estate, except for Schedule Four protected areas. Yet exploration and mining are inconsistent with conservation purposes,” said Wallace

Cath Wallace said for all the other activities, the Minister of Conservation may not allow them if they are incompatible with the conservation or reserve purpose of the land, yet for exploration and mining this test is waived.”

“The Bill compromises conservation fundamentally and in many ways.  The decision to allow access to conservation land is no longer the sole prerogative of the Conservation Minister.”

“To make matters worse, the decision on the reserve or protected area status of the land has also been handed over to the whole cabinet, even though they have no expertise and massive conflicts of interest.  The Bill proposes that Cabinet can remove or reclassify the protection status of land – so  an area could be removed from the protection of Schedule Four simply by reclassifying it.”

Cath Wallace said the Crown Minerals Bill amends the Conservation Act, the Reserves Act, the Continental Shelf Act and the Wildlife Act, all to give the energy and minerals minister, and other economic ministers powers to privilege exploration and mining.

“Other problems with the Bill include the Purpose of the Bill which is to promote rather than to manage minerals activity, so the regulator has a conflict of interest.   The Minister also has to promote minerals activity despite the regulatory role of the Crown Minerals Bill.”

“A matter of particular concern is that applications for minerals permits do not have to be kept in a public register, even though that was introduced as long ago as 1983 but has been since quietly dropped because it was not legally required.”

“The length of the term of minerals permits is being extended.  Holders of prospecting and exploration permits already have an automatic right to renew their permits or to exchange them for exploration or mining permits (s32 of the CMA) with no change to the conditions.  Mining permits may have a 40 year term (s35) with a further right to renew for another 40 years.

Cath Wallace said all up, a holder of a prospecting permit may have successive rights to permits for 118 years with no ability to change the conditions!  “Existing permits are still around from almost 80 years ago, and are to continue under the old rules.”

“This is putting other values of society and the environment at risk for the sake of totally unreasonably long investment certainty.  Who else is allowed to have unchanged conditions for 80-118 years?”

“Overall, ECO strongly objects to the undermining of conservation and the subjugation of intrinsic and non-extractive values and functions of the environment by this Bill by allowing economic ministers to decide conservation classifications and make other decisions,” said Wallace.

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For further information contact ECO Co-chair Cath Wallace or Barry Weeber

  1. ECO is the national alliance of 55 groups with a concern for the environment.  ECO has been involved in issues of resource management and land-use policy since its formation 40 years ago.

2.    The Bill proposes prospecting permits of four years can be extended for another term, exploration permits of up to 15 years can be renewed for a second term, and a 40 year mining licence can be renewed for a second term also.

3.    The Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill is before the Commerce Select Committee which is currently hearing submissions.

4.    The Fourth Schedule of the Crown Minerals Act was passed by a National Party Government in 1997 under section 3 Crown Minerals Amendment Act (No 2) 1997.  It prohibits mineral activity on conservation land gazetted as national parks, nature reserves, scientific reserves, wilderness areas, marine reserves, forest sanctuaries, wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands of international importance, and part of the Coromandel Peninsula, Hauraki Gulf, and many associated offshore islands.

5.    The Fourth Schedule does not stop mining in World Heritage Areas, conservation parks, most ecological areas (especially on the West Coast of the South Island), and marine mammal sanctuaries.  This schedule does not prevent miners operating mines under, for example national parks, or clearing native vegetation for service or emergency adits.

6.    The World Heritage areas not covered by the 4th Schedule include over 320,000 hectares on the West Coast both north and South of Haast in Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area and all the marine areas in the Sub-Antarctic World Heritage Area apart from the area covered by the Auckland Islands marine reserve. 

7.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a governmental and non-governmental body, has passed resolutions calling on all countries to stop mining on category I to IV protected areas (see 2.82  Protection and conservation of biological diversity of protected areas from the negative impacts of mining and exploration, 2000), which applies to nearly all categories New Zealand conservation land.  The IUCN specialist group the World Commission on Protected Areas has expressed concern at the proposed review.

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