Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Mixed reaction to Labour's environment commitments

Deputy Labour leader David Parker. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Deputy Labour leader David Parker. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Environmental Defence Society has welcomed environment commitments announced by Labour this week, but another group says its green pledges are still missing key details.

In a speech at Christchurch's Cashmere Club, deputy Labour leader David Parker said the party would, among other actions, repeal proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, "rebalance" the Department of Conservation toward regions, introduce a national policy statement for estuaries and scrap a $400 million Crown Irrigation Fund to kick-start private irrigation schemes.

On irrigation, Mr Parker said its 2011 election policy remained - encouraging fair use of freshwater through a resource rental on large irrigation takes, which he said comprised the major consumptive use of freshwater.

"Irrigation accounts for nearly 80 per cent of freshwater consumption. All domestic uses of water, which on a per capita basis are small - whether in cities or rural areas - will be exempt from the resource rental."

He said interested parties would be consulted on the appropriate manner and level of charging.

All the revenue raised within a region would go back into the region, to fund water management and delivery, new storage and irrigation schemes, safe rural drinking water supplies, and projects such as the restoration of degraded waterways.

But Mr Parker said his party would not ban the development of oil and gas, something environmental groups had called for.

"The world is on a transition to renewable fuels," Mr Parker said.

"It will take decades to complete and petroleum will continue to have an important role during that time."

Environmental Defence Society policy director Raewyn Peart said she was pleased to see the party would repeal any changes to the Resource Management Act.

"The RMA is fundamental to maintaining high environmental quality in New Zealand and any attempts to weaken it need to be strongly opposed."

Ms Peart also backed Labour's commitments to beefing up environmental safeguards for deep sea oil and gas, along with the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management.

Conservation group Forest and Bird also welcomed the pledges, but believed they were "missing key details".

The group's advocact manager, Kevin Hackwell, said he was disappointed the announcements did not preclude the continued sell-off of the rights to mine and frack on conservation land, and the rights to drill for oil and gas in some of New Zealand's deepest waters.

"We are pleased that Labour says it won't subsidise the oil and gas sector any longer. But its policy appears to allow the continued search for new reserves in some of our best parks and in our deep seas to continue," he said.

"If Labour is taking climate change seriously it would realise that its fossil fuels policy is at odds with the party's overarching policy statements on sustainability and climate change."

Mr Hackwell said the party's policies on strengthening freshwater protection by requiring any increases in the intensity of land use to be controlled rather than permitted as of right were in line with the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum.

Irrigation New Zealand, meanwhile, has criticised Labour's irrigation policies, stating it was not convinced the party had fully considered the implications of a tax, or resource rent, for irrigation

"Many water takes involve combinations of irrigation, hydropower and domestic supply such as the Opuha dam or the Rangitata Diversion Race - how will these complex takes be split apart to allow for irrigation related resource rents?" the group said in a statement.

"More importantly it is not equitable to do so given that private energy companies, Trustpower for example, and commercial business connected to domestic water supply systems also prosper from the use of water.

"A resource rent will mean increased cost for domestic water supply and electricity alongside food price increases - such a tax would therefore impact upon low income earners the most."

The group argued that the increased cost to farmers would affect production and prevent farmer investment in improved environmental management to meet the water quality limits now in place in a number of regions.

"Ultimately it will see the demise of the traditional New Zealand family farm."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 31 Aug 2014 18:47:50 Processing Time: 2300ms