Friday, October 16, 2009

Rubberstamping pollution

The Tarawera River is one of our most polluted waterways. While the upper reaches are crystal clear, the lower parts are stained black due to pollution from the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill in Kawerau. The mill dumps 150,000 tons of polluted mill waste into the river each day; as a result, the river is too filthy for most fish to live in, the water cannot be used by local orchardists or recreationally, let alone the local iwi for kaimoana.

The RMA explicitly rules out such pollution. Section 107 states that no resource consent shall be granted for discharging contaminants into water if it results in "any conspicuous change in the colour or visual clarity" of the water, renders it unsuitable for consumption by farm animals, or has a significant adverse effect on aquatic life. However, just this week, Environment Bay of Plenty granted the mill resource consent to continue polluting for the next 25 years.

How? Because section 107 also includes an exemption allowing consents to be granted in "exceptional circumstances". What's "exceptional"? Whatever the council wants it to be, of course. And so we're now in the Orwellian situation where the ordinary business-as-usual situation - pollution - is considered "exceptional" in order to please a powerful regional employer too cheap to run a clean operation.

This isn't good enough. The RMA is supposed to protect our waterways, not act as a rubberstamp for pollution. Green MP Catherine Delahunty has suggested tweaking the law to make it clear that consents granted in "exceptional circumstances" must be strictly temporary and require the polluter to clean up their act. It sounds like a bloody good idea to me.