A week is a long time in politics. A week ago Green Minister Eugenie Sage was being lambasted for not stopping a Chinese water supply company from buying sensitive land in Aotearoa New Zealand. Now she is being attacked by the right for refusing to allow conservation land from being desecrated.
A controversial application to mine coal on conservation land on the West Coast has been declined by the Government.
The company behind the mining proposal said the announcement was “just another kick in the teeth” for the West Coast community, while environment groups have celebrated the decision as one “future generations of New Zealanders will be thankful for”.
Forest and Bird had taken Rangitira Developments Ltd to the Environment Court over the application, which would have allowed mining in a 12 hectare patch of conservation land at Te Kuha, near Westport.
The company still has access to about 96ha of reserve surrounding the conservation land that it could develop. However, it had indicated the mine would not be economically viable without the higher-grade coal within the conserved area.
The mine was estimated to provide about 60 jobs to the region but would have done “irreparable damage to an area with very high, unique and nationally significant conservation values”, a joint statement released on Saturday by Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Minister of Energy Resources Megan Woods.
Because of extensive mining elsewhere, the Te Kuha area was one of the last two intact, elevated Brunner coal measure ecosystems, and home to threatened plant and animal species, including the great spotted kiwi, South Island fernbird, West Coast green gecko, and the largest known population of the rare forest ringlet butterfly.
“It is an undisturbed area which is precious and unique,” Sage said.
“We have seen, with the major lay offs at Stockton [Mine], with the establishment of the Escarpment then being mothballed that coal has been a rollercoaster industry. It hasn’t provided long-term sustainable jobs.
“The economic benefits assessment for the mine showed it was at a poor risk with a perfect storm if operating costs were higher than anticipated, if there wasn’t as much coal as anticipated, and if coal prices continued to be at low levels.
“The economic benefits of the mine didn’t outweigh the permanent loss and destruction of conservation values.”
Buller Mayor Gary Howard has criticised the decision and has described the mining proposal as “boutique”. That is a funny phrase to describe the desecration of a pristine natural area. Again from Radio New Zealand:
Buller Mayor Garry Howard said the decision put the whole project, and 60 jobs, in doubt, as the land in question was at the entrance to the larger site.
“It has a large effect for employment and we’re trying to diversify from mining but there is a place for boutique mining such as this one.”
Mr Howard said DOC had 1.6 million hectares of land on the West Coast, and this application involved just 12 hectares of it.
It was not that long ago that National wanted to remove protection from significant areas of conservation land. It only backed down from its position after huge public pressure.
And Simon Bridges has rekindled thoughts that National may still be open to such an approach by saying that National has no problems allowing the mining of conservation land that is not “pristine”. From Newshub:
Simon Bridges says National would have no problem approving coal mining on conservation land that isn’t “pristine”.
The Government on Saturday said it had declined an application to build an open-cast mine across 12 hectares in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area on the South Island’s West Coast.
Mr Bridges told The AM Show on Monday he wasn’t sure if the party agreed or disagreed with the Government’s decision, because it’s yet to be discussed in caucus.
But he said National “definitely” opposes what he’s calling a “blanket ban” on mining in conservation areas.
“A third of New Zealand is conservation estate. Some of it’s pristine – there shouldn’t be coal mining. But some of it’s scrubland.”
Nearly 30 percent of New Zealand is conservation land, but not all of it is Schedule 4 land – the most protected. The previous National Government did plan to allow mining in Schedule 4 land, but backtracked after 50,000 people took to the streets in Auckland in 2010.
A few years later Mr Bridges, then Energy and Resources Minister, signed off a block offer for exploration in Victoria Forest Park – the biggest of its kind in New Zealand. He later admitted he had never heard of it before he signed it off.
Victoria Forest Park isn’t Schedule 4 land, and nor is the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area, east of Westport. Nonetheless, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage called it “an undisturbed area which is precious and unique and supports complex and diverse habitats for threatened plants and wildlife”, including kiwi, snails and lizards.
The earlier incident where Bridges granted a block offer allowing for prospecting of Victoria Forest Park and admitted he had never heard of the area. Hopefully such indifference to our environment will not be shown again.