Existing world-class environmental safeguards mean a ban is not necessary
We already have strong environmental safeguards in place meaning a ban on conservation land isn’t necessary.
New Zealand’s robust and far-reaching environmental protection legislation is among the most stringent in the world. The Resource Management Act is an independent forum that provides for an adversarial assessment of the social, environmental and economic impacts of a resource proposal both on and off conservation land.
In addition to this, mining companies know that to earn and retain a social licence to operate they need to safeguard the environment. Good companies have a strong commitment to rehabilitation, above and beyond what is required by the law, and mining projects should, and often do, achieve a net positive contribution to environmental outcomes – noting the inherent difficulty in measuring these outcomes.
So what are the regulatory safeguards? A company wanting to explore or mine must navigate three regimes:
Title for the mineral rights if the mineral is Crown owned. These are known as mining (or prospecting, or exploration) permits. Permits are granted, or declined, under the Crown Minerals Act, which sets out a range of requirements that applicants have to meet in order to be granted access to the Crown’s minerals.
Land access. In New Zealand access agreements are negotiated with the land owner, who has the absolute right to grant or decline access. This requires the miner to build trust and confidence with the land owner, and local community as applicable. Where the landowner has a commercial interest in the land, a farmer for example, negotiations are normally relatively straight forward. The value generated by a mine on a unit area basis is always much higher than that generated by alternative commercial land uses, and an access arrangement is typically struck when the miner makes the deal worthwhile for the land owner.
For land in the conservation estate, DOC have traditionally issued access agreements under a range of criteria including assessed conservation values, conditions additional to those set under the RMA. Historically, most access applications from mining companies have been granted – often not in a timely manner.
Consents for activities under the RMA, and other relevant legislation. The RMA is an effects based legislative regime that considers the social, economic and environmental aspects of any proposal. The Environment Court is the ultimate arbiter. RMA consents are required, broadly, for any activity that disturbs or impacts the environment; taking and discharging water, dust, noise, waste dumps, tailings dams, mining, processing facilities, windmills, hydro dams...the list goes on. The RMA provides an independent and robust process. Applications are considered by independent experts and any consents are subject to conditions that the authority considers are required to ensure that the impacts of the proposed activity are acceptable to society.
The current regime allows a case-by-case assessment of resource proposals with a high bar for mining companies to establish rationale and justification to mine. This legislative regime is not perfect and there are many from business and the NGO sector arguing to review and improve the RMA.
Independence of decision making is a significant factor
A key strength of New Zealand’s environmental regulatory regime is that it is independent. Decisions that balance environmental, social and economic priorities are better made by an independent, bipartisan authority such as the Environment Court, rather than by politicians.
This independent and impartial process is the most fair and logical way of judging each application on its merits, including possible environmental impacts, estimated return on investment to the Crown, wider economic benefits and rehabilitation measures.
A blanket ban on conservation land would not allow this assessment to occur, choosing instead to sacrifice investment and jobs.
A review of mine proposals and operations since the RMA was put in place does not reveal a problem. As set out here, our estimate is that mining affects/disturbs 0.04% of the conservation estate – this is after more than 40 years. Since 2011 more than two thirds of applications for conservation land access have been granted by DoC.
If the RMA needs to be reviewed to address these issues, that would be a much better option than applying a total ban.
The 8 arguments against the ban (click each argument to see more detail).