I posted recently about the Ruataniwha Dam resource consent process. There are a number of issues surrounding this proposal including a Board of Inquiry without scientific expertise being selected (although I have since learned that one of the lawyers has some scientific expertise), a DOC submission inviting the Board to get more information and seek a peer review being dumped, submitters not being able to access the site, a model which NIWA is refusing to allow to be analysed, and a GNS Science contract being terminated because the scientists wanted a disclaimer inserted into their report.
To add to this list Gary Taylor, the Chairperson of the Environmental Defence Society, has publicly castigated the process. In a scathing press release issued yesterday he heavily criticised the Board of Inquiry process for deciding on the Ruataniwha Dam consents. The EDS is taking part in the hearing and is obviously finding the process difficult in the extreme.
In strong language he has outlined serious and compelling concerns about the fairness of the Environmental Protection Agency process for the hearings considering the applications for consents. I will set out his comments in full as they are deeply troubling.
“[T]he Board of Inquiry process is so heavily stacked against the interests of submitters, it fails the fundamental requirements of fairness. Because Government entities are not participating in the hearing, the burden of testing the applicant’s arguments has fallen on the voluntary sector. Engaging in the process is however extremely challenging.
The applicant has had years to prepare its case and has produced an overwhelming amount of highly technical evidence that submitters had 4 weeks to evaluate and submit on. Then the applicant prepared 46 briefs of evidence that were posted on the EPA’s website and submitters were given just 4 weeks to submit evidence in response.
These timelines have put enormous and unreasonable pressure on submitters.
It gets worse. There are also burdensome administrative requirements, with formal requests needing to be filed to do anything. The EPA administrators are also firing off directions changing set dates and imposing fresh obligations on a daily basis. It is a challenge just keeping up with them.
Moreover, it is clear from the evidence that a lot of this case hinges on freshwater science. But the Ministers for the Environment and Conservation, who appointed the Board, failed to include a freshwater specialist. And there’s no indication yet that the Board has even appointed science advisors.
Unprecedented in my experience is the fact that experts have been refused access to the site of the proposed dam and to key information relied upon by the applicant. This is deeply prejudicial. The Board has acknowledged this by allowing supplementary evidence to be filed later but that is suboptimal.
The process in this case is fundamentally flawed, the timeframes unrealistic, and the administration of it insensitive to constraints on submitters. Our confidence in getting a fair go has been heavily compromised.
It is a process that seems designed to facilitate the applicant getting consents and the plan change getting approved unchanged. It is a process that appears designed to implement the government’s growth agenda at all costs – and to ride roughshod over serious and legitimate public interest and environmental concerns.
I think the government needs to review the process for these called-in cases and create a fairer and more workable framework. This is so fast, so demanding and so unfair that it has to stop. It is just ridiculous.
We think the Board also needs to have another look at the timeframe it has available. Nine months for a case of this size and complexity is unrealistic. The Board should ask the Minister for more time now and establish a workable and fair process as soon as possible.
The EDS was formed in 1971 and has a sterling reputation for realistic principled advocacy for environmental protection. It has always conducted itself with decorum and restraint. That Gary Taylor felt obliged to use language as strong as this shows how compromised the Ruataniwha consent processes are.