Friday, August 09, 2013

Labour supports the "black drain"

The Tarawera is one of New Zealand's most polluted rivers. While its upper reaches are crystal clear, its lower reaches turn black and lifeless, thanks to pollution pumped into it by the Tasman pulp and paper mill.

Normally this would not be permitted. The RMA prohibits discharging contaminants to water where it would render that water unsuitable for livestock consumption, have a significant adverse effect on aquatic life, or result in conspicuous discolouration, odours or suspended materials. But there's an out: such discharges are allowed in "exceptional circumstances". Most people would regard that as meaning what it says: the circumstances must be truly exceptional, something like a public health emergency. But to the courts, it merely means "someone is able to make an exceptional amount money by doing it". Of course, that money is effectively a transfer from the people of New Zealand, in the form of future cleanup costs - an environmental subsidy.

Last year, the Greens promoted a bill to end this situation, by setting a time limit on such extraordinary consents and requiring consent authorities to impose conditions to clean them up. Today, that bill was reported back from select committee. As expected, the National majority on the committee recommended that the bill not be passed, claiming that it would discourage investment. What wasn't expected was that Labour backed them. On noting the absence of a minority report, I asked Labour's environment spokesperson Maryan Street whether they supported the bill. Her response?

No. Too short a consent time for useful investment.

There you have it: Labour supports the "black drain". If you want clean rivers, don't vote Labour.