Environmental Law in New Zealand

Environmental Law in New Zealand Introduction New Zealand is in an enviable position as it has been able to learn from the mistakes of other nations, however this does not mean disasterous environmental issues cannot arise here. Fortunately New Zealand has well established environmental laws with several legislative statutes and governmental authorities. Following international trends and heightened awareness of environmental issues throughout the years the legislation has become increasingly integrated.
Arising from international research and public concern new statutes have also been created the most significant of which is the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). Contributing Factors and Benefits Before the RMA, New Zealand environmental law and its administration was similar to that of many other countries, consisting of an assortment of uncoordinated and overlapping statutes, regulations and practices. The Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 was the first of such legislative statutes centred on use of the land and resources.
Social change in the 1960’s spurred awareness of environmental issues in New Zealand with events such as the Save Manapouri Campaign (1959-1972) opposing the development of the hydro-electric scheme planned for Lake Manapouri. During this period several statutes were created, the Nature Conservation Council Act 1962 and the Environment Council in 1970 acknowledging that economic interests can often override environmental concerns.

The Save Manapori Campaign culminated in 1972 with a change of government, the newly elected Labour Government set about fulfilling it’s election promise of environmental reform creating the Commision for the Environment. The agency later became the Office of the Parliamentary Commisioner for the Environment after the creation of the Environment Act 1986 establishing the Ministry for the Environment. The Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Conservation and Fish and Game were formed shortly after with the implementation of the Conservation Act 1987.
In January 1988, Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey announced a comprehensive review of the many environment and resource acts in place, as well as the procedures for assessing environmental effects. This Resource Mangagement Law Review (RMLR) was established to address concerns by environmentalists and Maori who both believed the public lacked access to information and the government had too much power.
Along with inadequate protection of resources and little attention to Maori and environmental values in economic decisions. The review was managed by the Ministry for the Environment encompassing Maori ideas of stewardship and sustainability it focused on existing New Zealand resource law and public reaction to deficiencies within those laws. The RMLR was drafted and the subsequent Resource Management Bill was put before parliament but not passed into law before the 1990 general election.
The victorious National Party decided to continue the process of resource management reform. Minister for the Environment Simon Upton reviewed the bill and to the surprise of many made it greener, changing the bill from its original objective of balancing economics and environment to constraining economical objectives to suit the environment, embracing the approach of sustainable management.
Upton addressed parliament on his re-written RMA stating that its purpose was not one of contolling and planning economic activity but one of sustaining, rectifying and mitigating the effects on the use of natural resources. The bill was passed in 1991 and has become the preeminant legislation concerning the management of the environment in New Zealand replacing 69 Acts and 19 regulations, it describes sustainable management as: (1) The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. 2) In this Act, sustainable management means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being and for their health and safety while— (a) sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and (b) safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems; and (c) avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment. Ministry for the Environment, 2011). 2011 has also seen a further addition to the RMA and environmental law in New Zealand with the implementation of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). The EPA will perform tasks once performed by the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Environmental Risk Management Authority. International Influences The 1970’s was a time of increased international concern for the environment, this spawned the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972.
Representatives from 113 countries met for the first time to discuss the state of the global environment. The conference culminated with the signing of a declaration containing 26 principles concerning the environment and development, an action plan with 109 recommendations, and a resolution (Baylis ; Smith, 2005). This action is widely seen as the beginning of modern political and public awareness of global environmental issues, paving the way for further international collaborations such as the Kyoto Protocol of which New Zealand is a signatory and the World Commission on Environment and Development .
The Brundtland Commision previously known as the World Commission on Environment and Development is perhaps the biggest international influence on the creation of the RMA, convened by the United Nations in 1983 the commision focused on the degredation of the environment and natural resources and the resulting consequences. In 1987 the commision released a report on the matter, titled Our Common Future the report centres on the concept of sustainable development and the political changes required to achieve it.
New Zealand’s response to the report was that of agreeance, a report consisting of a step-by-step response to 12 areas of concern highlighted by the Commission was submitted to the United Nations General Assembly (McChesney, 1991). The Newly formed Ministry for the Environment was tasked with following up the Brundtland Report which it did by means of RMLR resulting in the RMA in 1991. Role of the RMA in New Zealand The RMA is built on the idea of sustainable resource management, it encourages communities and individuals to become involved in planning for the future environment.
The RMA provides the guidelines for how the environment should be managed especially how the environmental effects of our activities should be managed. In accordance with the RMA, regional and district councils are to monitor activities, and respond to complaints about those activities that the public believe are negatively affecting the environment. It is important to realise that the RMA is largely effects based, if the applicant can prove that the effects of the development on the environment are unproblematic, then they may be allowed to continue.
The RMA however has not absolved the Conservation Act 1987 and the Environment Act 1986, the authorities created by these Acts such as Fish and Game and the Department of Conservation also play an active part in supporting or appealing resource consents. Any proposed plans to use or develop natural resources that are not permitted by the rules of the RMA require the authorisation of a resource consent from the local council.
Five different consents types exist, defined by the RMA as: (a) a consent to do something that otherwise would contravene section 9 or section 13 (in this Act called a land use consent): (b) a consent to do something that otherwise would contravene section 11 (in this Act called a subdivision consent): (c) a consent to do something in a coastal marine area that otherwise would contravene any of sections 12, 14, 15, 15A, and 15B (in this Act called a coastal permit): (d) a consent to do something (other than in a coastal marine area) that otherwise would contravene section 14 (in this Act called a water permit): (e) a consent to do something (other than in a coastal marine area) that otherwise would contravene section 15 (in this Act called a discharge permit). (Ministry for the Environment, 2011). An application must be submitted to the local council containing a description of the planned activity along with an assessment of the effects on the environment. If the activity is not prohibited by the local and regional plan the resource consent will be processed and the application may be publicly notified (not all are publicly notified) whereby anyone can make a submission on the application.
Organisations such as the Department of Conservation, Fish and Game and Forest and Bird have become key proponents of the submission process, opposing consents that harm flora and fauna. After receipt of all information required from the applicant and subsequent public submissions and public hearings the decision is made. Anyone who has made a submission and is dissatisfied with the outcome can appeal to the Environment Court. The resource consent process (Ministry for the Environment, 2009) The Environment Court previously know as the Planning Tribunal came to fruition in 1996 after ammendments to the RMA (Environment Court, 2007), among other things the court arbitrates RMA appeals.
The court hears appeals on resource consent decisions, however it does not review the decision made by local authorities instead it hears any evidence it requires and makes its own decision overriding or upholding the original decision. The court does not belong to the regular New Zealand judicial hierarchy (District, Supreme, High Court) although it carries the powers of a District Court allowing it to enforce the RMA and conduct criminal or civil proceedings. Conclusion Environmental Law in New Zealand has been significantly overhauled throughout the years from barely existent to now having three key pieces of legislation enabling conservation and sustainable management.
The RMA is a hugely important perhaps revolutionary piece of legislation, largely focused on the issue of sustainable management, a relatively new concept at the time. Unlike previous legislative statutes the RMA ambitiously incorporates management of the land, air, sea and fresh water into a single piece of legislation. It has effectively decentralised the governments power on the use of natural resources. Local and district authorities now make the decisions themselves following the principle that the decisions should be made closest to the resources affected.
References Baylis, J. , & Smith, S. (2005). The Globalization of World Politics (3rd ed). Oxford University Press, p. 454-455. Environment Court of New Zealand (2007). Environment Court. Retrieved from http://www. justice. govt. nz/courts/environment-court McChesney , I (1991). The Brundtland Report and sustainable development in New Zealand . Centre for Resource Management Lincoln University and University of Canterbury , p. 22. Ministry for the Environment (2009). An Everyday Guide to the Resource Management Act Series 2. 1: Applying for a Resource Consent. Retrieved from http://www. mfe. govt. nz/publications/rma/everyday/consent-apply/ Ministry for the Environment (2011). New Zealand Legislation: Acts. Retrieved from http://www. legislation. govt. nz/act/public/1991/0069/latest/DLM230265. html


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