The RMA Covid Bill which will take away the community input from up to 1800 projects is being rushed through parliament. Submissions close on Sunday Night 11.59pm 21 June.
The fast track COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill is being put through a very short Select Committee process. Rather than allowing a month for submissions and a several month Select Committee process, the Government has only given the Environment Select Committee 8 days to receive submissions, hear submissions and report back to Parliament.
The Government’s aim is to pass the Bill by the end of June and the Act is proposed to remain in force for 2 years but there is no justification for this period.
ECO considers the Government has not justified the introduction of this Bill. It removes public input, overturns their principles of public engagement they developed for the RMA Review and the Resource Management Amendment Bill. Only ACT voted against the introduction of the Bill. National supported the Bill to the Select Committee process as did the Greens.
The Bill deprives the public of input but allows input from a limited list of organisations who will be given a very short period (10 days) on a proposal. For example only four environmental NGOs are proposed to be consulted on projects (Schedule 6, clause 17(6)):
(n) Environmental Defence Society Incorporated; and
(o) Generation Zero Incorporated; and
(p) Greenpeace of New Zealand Incorporated; and
(u) Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Incorporated.
ECO can see no reason why the list in clause 17(6) is not replaced by a general provision that any person or organisation can make a submission. Limiting the groups will only lead to further poor decision making as key information is bound to be missed as it is likely to be in the hands of local people or varied experts. There is no requirement to consult scientific expert bodies.
The Bill is complicated legislation as it runs to 83 pages and 136 clauses and lessens environmental protections and enables fast tracking of projects with hugely damaging impacts.
The purpose of the Bill (section 4) is very employment focused:
“The purpose of this Act is to urgently promote employment growth to support New Zealand’s recovery from the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 15 and to support the certainty of ongoing investment across New Zealand, while continuing to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.”
Surprisingly the employment focus is lost in the decision-making clauses in the Bill. The problem for the Government is that infrastructure projects provide few jobs per dollar invested compared to many other projects or activities many that do not require RMA Consents.
The Minister for the Environment (combined with the Minister of Conservation for coastal projects) is the gatekeeper under the Bill deciding which projects get the green light and are referred to the fast track panel for approval on any designation and consent conditions. The flawed Environmental Protection Agency assists the panel. Members of the panel are appointed at the discretion of the Minister further politicising the decision making process.
The Bill lacks major transparency provisions. There is no requirement for the Minister for the Environment to publish any proposed project application for fast-tracking. The Government has refused to release the list of projects that have been applied to become “shovel-ready” projects.
The Bill is weak on climate change. It allows considerations of the impact of climate change on the project but not the impacts of the project on climate change.
The decision making provisions do not include consideration of the precautionary principle which should be standard in this legislation.
The information and environmental assessment requirements are less than those under the RMA. There is limited protection of threatened and endangered species and ecosystems.
The Minister for the Environment is the key gatekeeper for projects and also appoints the people to the decision making panels and also determines their term. There is no requirement to hold a hearing. It unclear what of this process is to be made public.
The Bill also put in place very limited ability to appeal to the High Court and prohibits a final appeal to the Supreme Court. There is no ability to appeal decisions of the Panel to the Environment Court.
The Bill lists 11 projects (Schedule 2) which will be directly referred to fast-tracking panels. These include an irrigation project near Kaikohe (LP16) and further Auckland motorway expansion between Papakura and Drury (LP15). There is no assessment of whether the projects will result in less greenhouse gas emissions and put us on a pathway to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The Government has refused to release the list of the other projects that might be considered once the Bill is passed or what criteria is being used to whittle down that list. Over 1800 “shovel-ready” projects have been put up and amongst those suggested include mining projects, wetland drainage, and more roading projects.
The Bill includes a list of permitted activities that NZ Transport Authority and KiwiRail will be allowed to carry out (Schedule 4). It enables some mangrove removal and dredging, and some removal of vegetation from significant natural areas and significant ecological areas.
Given the highly truncated process for comments there are sure to be flaws and omissions in the Bill.
It has been sent to the Environment Select Committee with a report back by 29 June.
Written submissions can be made via the Parliament website, and must be made by 11.59pm on Sunday 21 June 2020.
Greenpeace has set up a page to assist making submissions https://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/story/have-your-say-on-the-covid-19-recovery-fast-track-consenting-bill/
And 350.org have produced a submission guide with more detail https://350.org.nz/covid-19-response-fast-track-consenting-bill-submission-guide/