Thursday, November 01, 2018

Climate Change: How to kill coal in NZ

If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, then we need to end the mining and use of fossil fuels. This means not just ending oil, which the government is taking its first feeble steps towards today, but also coal. There are currently 15 operating coal mines in New Zealand, and every single one of them needs to be shut down. So how do we do it? The first step is to prohibit exploration and mining under the Crown Minerals Act. This would require a number of amendments:

  • A new section stating that despite anything to the contrary in the Act, no permit of any type may be issued for coal.
  • An amendment to section 32 (which allows exploration and prospecting permits to be converted to mining permits) to make it clear that nothing in that section shall apply to any permit for coal.
  • An amendment to section 36 (which allows permits to be varied) stating that no permit for coal may be changed to extend its duration, the land to which it relates, or change its conditions so as to remove or extend any condition under which the permit or any land to which it applies would otherwise be required to be surrendered.

That cuts off the pipeline. But we would also need to kill existing permits. A clause simply cancelling them entirely after a specified date (say, 1 January 2030) would do that.

But effectively forbidding mining under the Crown Minerals Act regime doesn't solve the problem, because the Act applies only to mining crown-owned minerals. Coal is not necessarily government owned, and mining coal on private land is not regulated by the Act. So, we'd also need to change the resource management regime to shut those down. The way to do that within the RMA scheme would be to issue a National Environmental Standard to prohibit mining coal, so one way of doing it would be to add mining to the list of things NES's can be issued for, and statutorily require the Minister to issue one prohibiting the mining of coal. Alternatively, we could follow the scheme used for banning the dumping of radioactive waste, and just have a clear statutory ban. The complicating factor is that there are resource consents in place which will need to be phased out (by prohibiting the granting of new ones and issuing a statutory cutoff on existing ones), so that will require transition clauses.

But won't people just import? That's the easiest problem to solve: the government can simply, at an appropriate time, declare coal to be a prohibited import under the Customs and Excise Act (we can also use this to prohibit exports, to kill the coal industry earlier if we want). Such a prohibition must be "necessary in the public interest", but in the wake of the latest IPCC report and if things keep going the way they are going, that's not going to be difficult to prove.

So, is there any MP who wants to start the process?