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May 15, 2017 | by  | in News |
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Ecosystems Under Threat

Forest and Bird claim that amendments made in April to the Resource Management Act (RMA) could have damaging consequences for ecosystems threatened by mining.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 passed its final reading in Parliament on April 6 with the support of the Māori Party.

Forest and Bird stated that restrictions on appeals to the Environment Court, the consolidation of authority over local decisions in the Minister for the Environment, and the potential to fast-track developments, could restrict their conservation efforts in the legal system.

Forest and Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell said that “the government has dramatically politicised the planning process” and the group is concerned that “we are about to see fast, poorly made decisions based on political expediency and a desire to satisfy the Government’s industry mates.”

Following the amendments to the RMA, Forest and Bird revealed on May 1 that the Government  has plans to identify areas of the Buller Plateau on the West Coast of the South Island for open-cast coal mining.

Forest and Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague stated: “we’ve become aware of secret plans developed for the Ministers of Conservation [Maggie Barry], Energy and Resources [Judith Collins], and Economic Development [Simon Bridges] to identify areas for coal mining and areas for protection.”

“The problem is, they’re planning to take the highest value conservation land for coal mining.”

In an interview with One News on May 1, the Minister for Economic Development Simon Bridges stated “there is very significant economic value in the Buller Plateau from a coal mining perspective.”

The plans could see open-cast mining at Wharaetea West and Deep Creek, which Hague said is “disastrous from a conservation perspective.”

While some areas of the plateau would be protected, the areas identified for mining are of high conservation value and include the habitats of rare species like the great-spotted kiwi, the fernbird, and the West Coast green gecko.

Hague stated that “without Whareatea West the integrity of the whole plateau is lost.”

Forest and Bird say that the Government is preparing the land for Phoenix Coal, a joint business venture of Bathurst Resources and Talley’s Group.

In 2016 Phoenix Coal purchased Stockton Mine, located on the plateau, following the decline of the state-owned company Solid Energy, which could not withstand plummeting coke coal prices.

The West Coast had been hit hard by the reduction of mining, and in 2014 Bathurst Resources announced they would delay indefinitely a proposed escarpment mine on the Denniston Plateau.

At the time, Buller Mayor Garry Howard said the announcement “is devastating for the  company and the Buller community” and accused environmental groups, who had opposed the proposed mine, as undermining its application.

“It is simply criminal to see a well-intentioned regulatory process abused and manipulated by out-of-town extreme elements intent on frustrating legitimate and reasonable developments.’’

Forest and Bird have been making use of the Environment Court’s appeals process to obstruct the expanding coal mining developments on the plateau.

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