Monday, February 14, 2011

"Protecting" the environment

Over the past few years National has made a lot of noise about its "BlueGreen" credentials, and promised greater protection of the environment through a new Environmental Protection Authority. But it turns out that in practice, the EPA doesn't protect the environment. Rather, it does the opposite:

Currently Horokiri, Ration and Pauatahanui Streams near Porirua are strongly protected under the Wellington Regional Freshwater Plan. And for good reason – they are the home of a lot of endangered New Zealand fish.

But these streams and their gullies are also the proposed route for Transmission Gully motorway from Porirua to Kapiti.

So you guessed it. The Nats are moving to de-protect these stream so they can build the motorway on them.

They are doing this by rushing through a plan change using the Environmental Protection Agency [sic].

So to recap, the Govt is using the Environmental Protection Agency to remove protection from endangered New Zealand fish habitat so that we can build a motorway on it, with the resulting increase in greenhouse emissions.

This is all made possible by changes to the RMA National rammed through under urgency in 2009, which widened the scope for Ministerial call-ins for projects of national significance. And reading Nick Smith's direction to the EPA, its clear that he's trying to widen that law further, equivocating on what the matter of national significance is to conflate the proposed plan change with the transmission gully motorway itself. Which means, basically, that no local plan is safe.

So this is how it will be now: a powerful developer - either the government or one of their favoured crony capitalists - will be able to override local democracy and lobby the Minister for changes to regional and local plans, overriding the wishes of local voters who will have to live with the results.

The whole point of the RMA was to empower local communities to make their own planning decisions and protect their local environment, and hold their politicians to account for not doing so. Now, none of that means anything. You can vote for green regional councillors, they can set up a plan which protects your waterways or your trees or your rugged hillsides - but none of it means a damn. The Minister can override any of it on a whim, because he wants to push through a particular project.

In other words, what we have now is statutory Muldoonism - exactly the problem the RMA was supposed to prevent. Except where Muldoon had to get Parliament to pass a law to enable the Clyde Dam, Nick Smith can just do it on a whim.

National has perverted the RMA into a developer's charter. This has to change. And the way to change it is to throw them out in November.