Rushed RMA Reforms Revisited

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A Government presentation in Gisborne yesterday on planned changes to the Resource Management Act and freshwater management provided only one side of the story according to a Gisborne District councillor.

“Of course it is the job of the Minister for the Environment and her officials to paint the proposed changes in the best light possible and they did a good job of that” said Manu Caddie. “But there are a lot of concerns about these changes in different parts of the community and the two week timeframe for providing feedback is incredibly tight.”

Mr Caddie has organised another workshop for people interested in discussing the changes in more depth at Gisborne District Council starting 6.30pm next Thursday 21 March.

“The Minister was quite upfront about trying to push these changes through quickly and while the topic may not be as sexy as the Marriage Equality Bill or Asset Sales, the long-term ramifications for the natural environment, habitat protection and community involvement in decision-making are huge.”

Mr Caddie said he is particularly concerned about planned changes to decision-making that will give central government greater powers and reduce opportunities for local control of environmental regulation.

“The RMA was one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the world in terms of participatory democracy and local control of local issues. Limiting the opportunities for public submissions and the right to appeal a decision will reduce the diversity of information available to decision makers and the quality of decisions.”

Mr Caddie said increasing the influence of commercial interests in decision-making and reducing the level of consideration given to environmental protection may reduce ‘red tape’ for big business and property developers but also impacts on habitat protection and the health of local ecologies.

“There are a few good things in the changes that would bring some more consistency and speed up minor resource consents but there are many aspects to the proposals that will further erode the few protections currently in place for the natural environment.”

Local Māori who spoke at the meeting yesterday expressed a desire to see more co-governance arrangements for resource management, particularly decisions about waterways. Proposed changes allow Māori a range of consultation opportunities in water management processes but stop short of sharing final decision-making with iwi or hapū.

Mr Caddie said he is also available to meet with any group or individual interested in discussing the proposed changes.

ENDS

Resources:

MfE Discussion Paper: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/improving-our-resource-management-system.html

Overdue petroleum study slated by councillors

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An overdue government report on the “benefits, impacts and risks” of petroleum development across the East Coast is a sloppy marketing campaign for the industry paid for by taxes and council rates, according to some councillors from Gisborne and the Hawkes Bay.

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie said the $130,000 report released today was originally due in November and the lack of a good news story must be embarrassing for the Government. “The study is riddled with errors, clearly biased and provides less than half of the information promised in the Terms of Reference” said Mr Caddie.

The East Coast Oil and Gas Development Study was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment with support from local authorities on the East Coast from Tararua to Gisborne.

“The study makes some optimistic claims about benefits but glosses over the risks and has almost no worthwhile analysis of the economic impacts let alone social and cultural impacts of this industry should it come to dominate the region” said Mr Caddie.

“One of the few redeeming features of the report is that, based on geological analysis and economic modelling, it suggests commercial petroleum development in the region is highly unlikely” said Mr Caddie. “The study provides a good case for the government to support industries that will produce more sustainable, long-term employment with much lower risk to the environment and existing primary industries.”

One of the bitter ironies of the report is that it relies on production scenarios supplied by Apache Corporation, a company that has since pulled out of exploration in the region. While the report tries to reassure the public and decision makers that well integrity is not a risk, just last week Apache Corporation had a blowout at an exploratory well being drilled only 330m below the surface near New Orleans.

Similarly the study suggests a subsurface safety valve eliminates the risk of hydrocarbon or chemical leaks should a well be compromised, yet according to the US Minerals Management Service such valves have a ‘high failure rate’.

Hawkes Bay Regional Councillor Liz Remmerswaal said the study is inconsistent and selectively quotes from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s interim report on fracking.

“The PCE report identified seven key concerns about any petroleum exploration or production on the East Coast and while the MoBIE study says it will not make recommendations it then suggests the questions raised by the PCE do not need to be addressed before exploration starts” said Ms Remmerswaal.

The PCE report also provides evidence on how reinjection processes used in fracking operations overseas have caused significant earthquakes. The MoBIE report is not only silent on these concerns, it recommends the reinjection of waste products from the drilling process.

Both councillors believe the government and councils should commit similar funds to a study on sustainable energy opportunities for the region.

Last month a government-funded trade delegation visited DLR, one of the world’s leading energy market analysts, the same organisation that was recently commissioned by Greenpeace to produce a plan for 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050 for New Zealand.

The Greenpeace report reveals that 250 companies in New Zealand are already researching and commercialising clean technology with Investment NZ suggesting at least 60 of these are world-class enterprises. These companies have potential revenues of $7.5-22billion, significantly higher than the total revenue for even the most optimistic East Coast petroleum development scenarios. The Greenpeace report also provides evidence that clean energy jobs are more secure, safer, often pay better and are created at 3-4 times the number of fossil fuel jobs for the same investment.

“The MoBIE study has some generous claims about how many local people will be employed but why they assume at least half will be local residents is unclear, especially as Apache Corporation representatives speaking at public presentations very clearly refused to promise any direct local employment in the industry” said Mr Caddie.

The report identifies known aquifers in the region and discusses their protection and exclusion from exploration zones though some confusion exists about how the Napier MP and Minister for Local Government Chris Tremain claimed credit for excluding aquifer areas in Hawkes Bay but no where else in country.

“The Minister acknowledges the significant risk to aquifers during drilling and production phases but has only focused on protecting his home patch” said Mr Caddie. The study suggests excluded areas should be identified through changes to regional and district plans.

“It’s a bit fresh that this study is launched the same week as Hawkes Bay Regional Council is asking for a drought to be declared and the study says fracking requires ‘large volumes of water’” said Ms Remmerswaal. “But other than implying a massive new dam will solve the problem, little assessment is made of the existing competition for scarce water resources let alone the impacts of a new industry requiring large volumes to be used and contaminated in the process.”

The councillors are also concerned that the report relies heavily on the few examples of fracking in Taranaki which has very different geology and the regulatory history of the Taranaki Regional Council which the PCE report revealed had been operating outside the law in relation to fracking according to their own lawyers assessment.

Apache Corporation announced the withdrawal from a joint venture on the East Coast in January leaving Canadian company TAG Oil with responsibility for an exploration operation in a complex area both in terms of the geological and cultural landscape. Marauder Resources which holds other permits for exploration in Hawkes Bay received a warning from auditor KPMG last year that the company may not be able to ‘continue as a going concern’.

CONTACTS:

Liz Remmerswaal 027 333 1066 (will be outside HBRC from 11am-12pm)

Manu Caddie 0274 202 957

Download the MoBIE study and government comments here:

http://www.med.govt.nz/sectors-industries/natural-resources/oil-and-gas/petroleum-expert-reports/east-coast-oil-and-gas-development-study

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Gisborne to lead on sustainable dairying?

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What is the price of milk? In New Zealand the cost of dairy is that two thirds of our native fish are classified as either at risk or threatened.

After decades of polluting land and water, the dairy industry has finally published a voluntary code in an effort to at least make some effort to clean up their act. My first impression of the new ‘Sustainable Dairying Water Accord‘ is positive as it covers all regions including Gisborne and all dairy companies and farmers supplying them.

Stock exclusion from waterways, riparian planting, nutrient management systems and other good things are all going to be considered industry best practice and will now apply to all dairy farmers.

Gisborne only has a few dairy farms and our Council is understandably taking a low key approach to the new Accord. There is however a big opportunity for us here.

The Council is the local regulator and represents the wider public interest in protecting water quality. Ten years of a previous Accord showed that councils have to be vigilant to ensure that farmers meet their responsibilities under their resource consents to discharge dairy shed effluent.

The small numbers of dairy farms here mean it should be easy for us to get it right. Council recently took a dairy farmer to court for breaching the consent conditions, but we will be able to work closely with farmers to ensure the new Sustainable Dairy Farming Accord is adhered to and avoid the need for future enforcement action.

Let’s hope that our farms are the best in the country and that we can show the rest of New Zealand how to live up to the 100% PURE brand we all aspire to make a reality.

Labour announces rail retention policy at public meeting

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A Gisborne public meeting hosted by Mayor Meng Foon was the platform for Labour Party MP Moana Mackey to announce her party’s intention to reopen the Gisborne to Napier railway line if they are in power after next year’s election and the current Government abandons it.
“Having read the BERL report the Labour Party can now see the economic opportunity the rail provides and we are convinced it makes sense to retain the line, keep the extra trucks off the road and keep East Coast products competitive” said Ms Mackey.
“The National Party received a real bollocking at the meeting” said organiser and District Councillor Manu Caddie.
A member of the public moved a vote of no confidence in Anne Tolley and Chris Tremain that was almost unanimously supported by the more than 100 residents present and speakers suggested while the provinces have been loyal to National, the party leadership seem to have forgotten about rural New Zealanders.
Forest owner Roger Dickie said he had 18 million tonnes of trees to be harvested in the region and he wants to send at least 7.5 million tonnes south by rail. Mr Dickie also criticised Juken Nisho who own a mill in Gisborne and Eastland Port for lobbying the Government against retention of the line in an effort to bolster their own businesses at the expense of others in the region.
Mr Dickie responded to KiwiRail Chief Executive Jim Quinn’s claims that short haul railways are uneconomic by pointing out a number of similar and shorter lines carting logs profitably for KiwiRail.
Green MP Julie Genter said the $500,000 for a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis was small change compared to the $100 million of taxpayers funds the Government has spent on consultants for a $3-5 billion motorway in Wellington.
“If the Government wants to take this public asset away from the region then they need to be able to justify the decision with accurate figures” said Mr Caddie. “BERL have shown the numbers are much closer than KiwiRail suggested and that doesn’t even take into account the massive extra cost to road maintenance, road safety issues, environmental benefits and the cost to regional jobs if Gisborne products are less competitive.”
“$4 million is the cheapest the repair is ever going to be, so fix it now” said Ms Mackey.
“Many of the regional roads in our district would not exist if Council applied the same economic rationale to them as KiwiRail has to” said Mayor Foon. Gisborne deserves to have services and infrastructure similar to every other part of the country. We deserve good schools, good hospitals, good roads and a good railway line.”

Councillor welcomes interim report

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie has welcomed the interim report on fracking by the Commissioner for the Environment.

Mr Caddie said he was pleased Commissioner Dr Jan Wright had repeated a number of concerns raised by local residents. “Many ordinary people have raised these same issues and been dismissed and belittled, not only by the industry and politicians but also by local critics who think they know better.”

The report says a list of questions ‘need to be asked and answered’ in relation to the specifics of the East Coast situation. “The report’s revelation of previously secret legal advice to Taranaki Regional Council suggests councils would be in violation of the Resource Management Act if plans continued to omit rules related to discharge of fracking reiterates the need for an urgent review of the Combined Regional and District Plan for Gisborne” said Mr Caddie.

“This should be enough for the Minister to reconsider his proposal to accelerate petroleum development on the East Coast” said Mr Caddie. “Let’s take it slowly and see what happens with the permit areas that have already been granted to the Canadian companies. The PCE makes it clear that oil rushes are not good for the host communities.”

Mr Caddie said he is satisfied with Dr Wright’s assessment that the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing may be managed at an acceptable level of risk and appreciates that the PCE is reserving the right to call for a moratorium once she has completed her investigation into regulations.

“Not knowing who is responsible for well integrity seems like a pretty fundamental problem already identified by the PCE and the kind of ambiguity we saw contribute to the Deepwater Horizon and Pike River disasters.”

Mr Caddie said the PCE and government seemed to be at odds on industry claims that everything is fine and New Zealand is a world leader in fracking regulation.

“Given the lack of confidence the PCE has in the current rules and plans, I look forward to her final report that will make recommendations to ensure we don’t see a continuation of the cowboy approach taken by at least one regional council and an over-enthusiastic central government.”

At the end of the day, local communities will decide what is appropriate for them and local regulators will rely on these kind of ‘expert’ reports to inform local decisions. For this reason Mr Caddie is disappointed many of the issues explored in the report seem to end half way through the investigation – the section on well construction and completion is a good example of this. “I have spoken to the PCE staff who say further evidence and analysis of the issues will be included in the final report as this was all they could do to date.”

Mr Caddie said the ‘contribution to climate change’ section clearly needs more work. “The PCE says climate change is the biggest issue facing the world then implies we don’t need to be concerned if New Zealand exports all fossil fuels because they won’t impact on our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report quotes a range of studies, experts and news reports but neglects to provide a systematic assessment on the validity of competing claims. For example the PCE quotes a recent Cornell University report suggesting fracking produces more greenhouse gas than coal and cites criticism of that study but provides no suggestion on what the most likely emissions scenario is.

Boomtown Rats

Proposed new permit areas in yellow. Existing permit blocks in green and unassigned block in brown.

It has been an exciting week for the oil and gas industry. Todd Energy published a 180 page ‘no worries’ fracking tract and the Government announced plans to open up a large area across the flats and into the hills between Te Karaka, Tiniroto and Frasertown for petroleum exploration.

Todd acknowledges in its submission to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s inquiry that “many of the environmental risks raised as concerns relating to hydraulic fracturing apply to all exploration and production drilling.” That’s been my concern for some time and I agree to a point with industry suggestions that most of these risks can be managed with ‘best practice’ and strong regulation.

The claim that opposition to fracking in New Zealand is being based not on evidence, but on misinformation and emotion really is ironic. Are the professors at Duke University, Cornell University, Penn State or the University of Alberta misinforming us with their peer-reviewed, published empirically evidenced papers? Which regulators that have concluded fracking was the cause of water contamination, earthquakes and/or air pollution were being too emotional in their reports?

We hear claims that there has ‘never been a major incident in Taranaki’, yet a recent oil spill that reached the Kapiti Coast took 265 days to ‘clean up’ and in one year alone three workers were killed on Taranaki wells. Taranaki Regional Council reports reveal chemical contamination of ground water near the Kapuni well so bad that it should not even be used for irrigation, let alone stock or human consumption.

No one is suggesting that every injected well results in drinking water pollution or dangerous earthquakes, but the evidence from independent scientists all over the world confirming contamination makes it clear that fracking is causing serious issues. The Todd submission acknowledges that there are real problems to deal with. Common concerns relate to water pollution through fugitive emissions from well casings, air pollution from flaring and spray disposal, soil pollution from spills, leaks and dispersal, significant earthquakes caused by the pressurised reinjection of fracking waste, radioactive material to be disposed of as part of the fracking process and the list goes on.

Todd Energy says a moratorium on fracking until we sort out the regulations would scare off overseas oil companies. These are the companies that spend well over $100million every year lobbying US politicians and threatening all sorts of calamity if profits are not prioritised over other considerations.

There will be stronger measures on climate change from the US after Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s reelection, but New Zealand politicians are still not prepared to commit the country to a realistic transition plan away from fossil fuels. Todd Energy argues that natural gas is a better option than coal, but conveniently overlooks recent research including a study from Cornell University that found the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas could be at least 20 percent higher than that of coal (Howarth, R. W., R. Santoro, and A. Ingraffea, 2011).

Putting aside any moral obligation to future generations who will be the victims of a lack of climate justice in our time, we should be clear about the local risks and benefits of the industry. Three studies due before Christmas will help with that assessment and Gisborne District Council will consider them all carefully.

In the meantime interested members of the public might like to check out the maps of the proposed exploration permit areas, find out some more about what is planned and give feedback to local councilors, iwi leaders and/or the Minister of Energy and Resources by the end of January.

Kainga Whenua changes ‘best achievement’ of current Government

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Making it easier for whanau to build on multiply-owned Māori is probably the best achievement of the current government to date says Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie.

Changes in eligibility criteria and an increase in the amount Kiwibank will loan under the Kainga Whenua scheme were announced yesterday by Māori Party co-leader and Associate Minister of Housing Tariana Turia.

“If anything can make a difference to unlocking the potential of Māori land on the East Coast then this will” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the changes that will allow non-resident shareholders to be guarantors for a loan, lifting the restriction from only first home buyers and raising the income threshold will make it easier for people earning more money, who can afford to service a mortgage, to look at returning to their traditional lands.

Mr Caddie said rates arrears on Māori land in the northern part of Gisborne District were spiraling out of control and this kind of policy would make it much easier for families to return to the land and make it even more productive than it had been 100 years ago.

“With the opportunities technology offers to work anywhere, the idea of living on tribal lands and trading globally is going to be very appealing to more families.”

Mr Caddie has been critical of the Kainga Whenua scheme in the past because the restrictive criteria had severely limited its uptake. “These are the changes we have been calling for and it is great to see both the Maori Party and National Party have been listening.”

Mr Caddie said a presentation on the new criteria would be on the agenda of the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group meeting at Council on 24th October.

The fund will now be open to Maori Land Trusts, whanau or hapu groups who wish to build on Maori land and to all individual borrowers assessed as able to service a mortgage, not just first home buyers.

The income cap for borrowers has been raised from $85,000 to $120,000 for one borrower and up to $160,000 for two or more borrowers.

Loans can also now be used for home improvements, repairs and maintenance.

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Over $5,000 already donated in 24hrs!

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East Coast rail supporters are trying to raise $10,000 by Tuesday to have the KiwiRail report independently peer reviewed by one of NZs most respected independent economic analysis companies.
 
“Of course it should be KiwiRail and/or the Government that pays for such a review but we don’t want to wait another six months for that to happen” said Gisborne District Councillor and Rail Action Group member Manu Caddie. After sending an appeal last night, Mr Caddie said about $3,000 has already been pledged and he is hoping Gisborne, Wairoa and Hawkes Bay residents will help reach the goal.
 
“It seems like a lot of money to find in a short time, but expert analysis is expensive and we believe an independent review of Kiwirail’s figures and conclusions will be the best way to force the Government to relook at the situation and the Government has ignored overwhelming public support so far.”
 
Mr Caddie said he has been working with a group of analysts who believe the numbers, process and conclusions in the KiwiRail report do not stack up. “We want to double check these alternative conclusions with a reputable independent organisation providing robust economic analysis and we want the people to have access to an accurate assessment.”
 
Instead of focusing on adding a few passing lanes to the highway, Mr Caddie believes pressure needs to remain on ensuring rail is retained because products from Gisborne and Wairoa region are going to become less competitive if the efficiencies of rail freight are not available for local producers.
 
The Tairawhiti Environment Centre is holding funds for the Rail Report Review. 
 
If anyone wants to make a donation towards the report review, they can make a bank deposit at ANZ or online, the account number for donations is 01-0641-0058800-00.  Cash or a cheque can be sent to PO Box 1376, Gisborne 4040 (cheques should be made out to Tairawhiti Environment Centre, but enclosing a note that the donation is for the Rail Report Review). Tairawhiti Environment Centre is a charitable entity, so donors should include their name and address, so they can be sent a tax deductible receipt.
 
More information is available at: www.rail.org.nz

Studying the Study

 

I was pleased to hear about the various pieces of work to be included in the study initiated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the likely impacts of petroleum exploration and production on the East Coast.

Ramping up fossil fuel production in New Zealand is the number one priority in the Energy Strategy of the current Government. We should not be surprised therefore that the Terms of Reference for the East Coast study will deliver results focused on the potential economic benefits for the country and the region. It is a shame they are not going to have the analysis peer-reviewed or use global scientific experts to assess the environmental risks.

Ministry officials have told me the assessments of the likelihood and impact of potential environmental risks associated each scenario (high, medium, low production levels) would be included but only at a very high level. Localised environmental risks such as hydrocarbon and toxic chemical leaks into the air, water and soil are of concern to many landowners and residents. There are also the global impacts of continuing to make cheap fossil fuels available while we know they are contributing to catastrophic climate change – no study is able to justify what has become an indefensible situation we are all responsible for.

While the oil industry argues the foreign exchange earnings from their products help pay for our schools and hospitals, they also need to acknowledge the intergenerational injustice the industry is causing. The Government has no transition plan to renewable energy and no strategy to reign in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions of each production scenario are not included in the MBIE study.

All of the analysis on the national and local economic impacts of petroleum production has been outsourced to NZIER, the organisation that recently suggested climate change should be considered New Zealand’s “least important environmental issue”. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment described the analysis in a 2009 report by NZIER as “muddled and superficial”, “too superficial to lead to well-reasoned priorities” and “fundamentally flawed”.

BERL last month published an economic study for Southland that demonstrated the benefits of alternative industries for the region would outweigh the jobs and income from fossil fuel extraction. That is the kind of study we should have to sit alongside the MBIE project.

MBIE staff assure me that labour estimates in the report should be able to quantify the types of jobs the industry would require under each scenario and the likelihood of local people being employed in those roles.

The economic analysis should also include assessments of the likely impacts on existing businesses from land use changes, pollution, regional brand impacts, though MBIE say this is only going to be at a very high level. Federated Farmers and Hort NZ seem relaxed about the potential impact of thousands of oil and gas wells, tens of thousands more truck movements each year and the storage and disposal of toxic waste. Farmers and growers I have spoken to sit across the continuum, some are strongly opposed to the oil industry establishing itself here, others are quite open to the idea.

The capacity and expertise required by consenting authorities on exploration and production issues are outside the scope of the MBIE study but of real concern to many locals. Councils and central government should be able to work toward agreement on what resourcing is appropriate for government to provide given the royalties flow back to central government but local authorities have to do all the regulation and manage community expectations and concerns.

The MBIE study should be interesting reading alongside the PCE report on fracking due in the same month and the research Professor Caroline Saunders has been working on for Gisborne District Council that looks at the positive and negative impacts on provincial communities when an oil boom hits town.

Turbo-Charging Tairāwhiti Technology Take-Up

Lytton High School students demonstrating Auto-CAD to Ilminster Intermediate students at Tairāwhiti Techxpo 2012.

I recently visited two initiatives in Auckland to look at what they are doing with young people and technology. At Point England School in Glen Innes students all have their own NetBook, each family pays $3.50 per week for the child to have their own device for school and home work. At Clubhouse 274 in Otara I visited the Community Technology Centre where students go after school to use high-end equipment they can’t access at home and many were working on commercial projects.

Recently a number of local people and projects have converged to progress some exciting technology opportunities for the district that are already having positive social and economic outcomes, but more support is urgently required.

Tairawhiti Techxpo was a great day last week that provided a solid foundation for a bigger and better event next year. Thanks to the schools that participated, we had hundreds of young people get a taste of employment and career opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology sectors of robotics, hardware, networking, software, app development, entertainment, aerospace, imaging, animation and computer-aided-design industries.

Thanks must also go to the generous sponsors including Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, EIT Tairāwhiti, Eastland Community Trust and the small businesses and individuals that contributed on the day and through the event organising.

One of the Techxpo keynote speakers from Wellington joined the monthly Gizzy Geeks meeting in the evening. Nathalie Whitaker is a net entrepreneur and is keen to move to Gisborne with a number of her colleagues, the lifestyle, surf and clean environment are what attract them. Something that would make Tairawhiti even more appealing to these IT entrepreneurs is for Gisborne to have a bunch of competent geeks who can do the technical programming work that sits behind the software products Nathalie and her friends develop.

What the Techxpo highlighted was that our high schools are now growing such talent locally. Lytton High School had a large contingent of IT experts and Gisborne Girls’ High School and Campion College were also very well represented in the demonstrations provided by students. Other schools have already booked a spot for next year to showcase the skills and products being developed through cutting-edge teaching and learning.

A number of Gisborne school students are now making and selling smartphone apps internationally – this is a $40billion global market with over 10 billion downloads last year alone.

The Rangitawaea Nati Awards next week is an annual fixture that encourages and recognises IT talent in Ngati Porou schools, another fabulous showcase of skills and creativity grown in our region and reaching out to the world.

The Techxpo, the Gizzy Geeks group, the Nati Awards and the new Tairāwhiti Computer Hub Trust have proved a fertile ground for collaboration between technology specialists and a number of exciting new business opportunities are emerging from the relationships built around particular skills, interests and networks.

And where does all this sit in terms of regional economic development planning? It is dismissed in the Regional Economic Development Strategy (2009) as an unlikely prospect and rendered invisible in the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan. Perhaps this absence is not a big issue considering the Action Plan has been largely ignored from the day it was produced.

What is important is that the IT sector is recognised as a cornerstone of every local business and that it is factored into the priorities of entities like the Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council that have a focus on supporting sustainable economic development. While public entities ‘don’t pick winners’, they do provide limitations and opportunities for the expansion of particular industries.

We need to look urgently at what infrastructure beyond Ultrafast Broadband will enable a fledgling IT sector to quickly become a serious economic driver for our local communities. Neighbourhood computer hubs, low-cost residential wi-fi and a commercial programming academy seem sensible ideas to explore.

ETS Amendment Bill Submissions Closing Soon…

Submissions close Monday 10 September… here’s mine.

You can submit yours here (feel free to use anything in this one).

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Submission on Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

I object to the unreasonably short time-frame for submissions on this important bill.
This bill seems to be a deliberate attempt by the Government to undermine the price of carbon and kill off our clean energy sector in favour of greenhouse gas producers and consumers.
The Government is re-writing environmental legislation to suit our biggest polluters at the cost of ordinary New Zealanders. This is irresponsible. The Government should be sending a clear message to industry that they must move to a cleaner, smarter way of doing business.
By further weakening our environmental laws the Government is putting our global reputation at risk.
Government should bring in an action plan for the 21st century that phases out old fossil fuels that pollute our land, water and air and phase in new, clean and safe energy that can create thousands of jobs and strong economic growth for New Zealand.
I do not agree with the amendments to:
– maintain the 1-for-2 surrender obligation after 2012, without specifying an end date in legislation;
– maintain the $25-a-unit fixed price option after 2012, without specifying an end date in legislation;
– remove a specified entry date for surrender obligations on biological emissions from agriculture.
The ETS has long been criticised for being too weak because of the fixed, low price on carbon and a high allocation of free credits to our biggest polluters. And these proposals will allow this status quo to continue. It sends a signal that its business as usual as there’s no incentive for our biggest polluters to clean up their act and change their behaviour. The taxpayer is left subsidising this free allocation of permits to the tune of nearly a billion dollars a year.
By further delaying the inclusion of agricultural emissions indefinitely, it’s clear that the Government has no intention of including this sector in the scheme, which was designed to include all greenhouse gases from all sectors. The ETS simply cannot function without the inclusion of our largest emitters.
The purpose of emissions trading is to place a cost on emissions significant enough for them to reduce pollution and start investing in a cleaner, safer way of doing business. However, these proposed amendments to defer the increase in cost of polluting and surrendering the two permits for the “two for the price of one” obligation, will only result in more pollution, not less.
Put simply, these amendments will further undermine the very premise upon which the Emissions Trading Scheme was set up and weaken the only major tool that the Government has in place to reduce our impact on our climate.
I am concerned about the very short time within which the public can have our say on these important changes.By limiting the consultation period to just two weeks, the decision-making will not be as robust as it could have been on this issue that is absolutely critical to the future of our planet.

Business case to close Gisborne rail link needs independent review

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Photo: KIERAN CHISNALL : “This is train 687. One of the weekend fert trains that were running before the squash trains started. This was taken just south of Black’s Beach winding back down to Nuhaka.”

Gisborne District Councillor and Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie says KiwiRail needs to provide the Council with a copy of the full business case that has led to the decision to close the Napier to Gisborne railway line.

“KiwiRail may have skewed the figures to justify closure rather than invest in what is at present a marginal business proposition for them but a lifeline for us. The communities of the East Coast need an independent review by reputable economists of how KiwiRail arrived at its claim that there is no alternative. I think that is the least the Government and KiwiRail owe our region if they are going to strip us of this billion dollar investment.”

“Make no mistake, mothballing is not a temporary arrangement – look what happened in the Bay of Plenty when the line was mothballed, it doesn’t take long to deteriorate to a point where its unsalvageable.”

“Hard on the heels of provincial roading cuts, this Government is clearly abandoning the regions.”

Mr Caddie said his grandfather worked on the railway line in the 1940s and 22 men died while building the section between Wairoa and Gisborne.

“The Government this week passed legislation that will cost $85m to underground a short piece of Wellington motorway so the national war memorial can have more space – our railway line is the memorial for the 22 men who gave their lives for it and we may be the generation that abandons their work.”

Federated Farmers, Gisborne Chamber of Commerce, Hawkes Bay Chamber of Commerce, forest owners and transport operators have all said it is essential to keep the line open. And before the washouts in March, business on the line was booming.

“Fuel prices are only going to increase and rail will become more and more the mode of choice for exports and imports to the region.”

Government Cuts Gisborne Roading Funds

A three year road funding commitment for the Gisborne District has been compared to the washouts plaguing the region at present.

“With more than $400,000 per year cut from the roading programe, this announcement leaves some big potholes in our road maintenance budget” said Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie.

Mr Caddie says the Government has cut funding to the region and ratepayers could end up footing more of the bill to maintain local roads.

“There is little in this package to ‘bolster’ Gisborne’s economy – while road maintenance and repair costs are going through the roof and ratepayers are struggling to make ends meet the District doesn’t even to get to keep what it had, we are getting less than last year!”

Mr Caddie pointed to a study presented to the Regional Transport Committee early this month that showed there was little if any economic benefit to be expected from increasing truck sizes on Gisborne roads.

Mr Caddie said while the Regional Transport Committee ended up supporting the funding bid to NZTA it did so largely because Gisborne District Council was told the amount put forward was the maximum the region had any chance of securing under current Government policy.

“It is good to see cycling and walkways made the cut but if you read the fine print, they are only going to be funded if the major project to allow bigger logging trucks to run from Tolaga Bay through the city to Matawhero costs no more than is budgeted for.”

“Regional roads are essential to the economic wellbeing of the District and the country, which is why our Regional Transport Committee is joining other provincial roading authorities and councils to call on the National-led government to drop its commitment to the seven Roads of National Significance. A few roads in the big centres are sucking so much money that the Government has not only taken funds off the regions but is borrowing more overseas to pay for them.”

Government needs to explain East Coast rail job losses

Councillor and Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie says the Government needs to explain leaked documents purporting to show job losses on the East Coast.

New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan has said the documents suggest the Government has decided to mothball the damaged Napier to Gisborne line.

Kiwirail Chief Executive Jim Quinn told the Gisborne Regional Transport Committee in May that a decision on the future of the line would be made a matter of weeks.

“Following the presentation of 1,000 signed postcards and 10,000 petition signatures the Government has obviously wanted to make sure it has some positive spin on the situation before Kiwirail announces the closure. The people responsible need to stop fluffing around and give Gisborne businesses certainty one way or the other.”

“New Zealand businesses, particularly provincial exporters benefit from rail. Road users benefit from rail. It is unfortunate Eastland Port has selfishly undermined local support for retaining the rail.” The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce, Federated Farmers, local transport companies and forestry owners have all backed strong public support for the rail to be retained.

“This is a billion dollar public asset that is being taken away from us. Businesses demonstrated with little help from Kiwirail that there is enough local product to make the line viable in the short-term let alone as fuel prices and road maintenance costs increase” says Mr Caddie.

“This is happening at the same time as the Government spent $8 million on public relations to sell its seven Roads of National Significance, allows NZTA to borrow to cover the costs of new highways close to the major metropolitan centres and makes us share the costs of that borrowing, cuts subsidies for Council roads, takes back income from regional fuel tax and relegates our local roading priorities to the bottom of the list.”

Mr Caddie says Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee needs to be more honest about the situation. The Minister yesterday said that 29 per cent of roading funds will be spent on new and improved state highways, mostly the Roads of National Significance and 26 per cent will be spent on maintenance operations and renewal of local roads.

“What Mr Borwnlee neglected to say is that we have 94,000 km of roads in New Zealand, and it’s only 12 percent of that is state highway. The costs of maintaining local roads would be significantly less if more freight was using rail in and out of Gisborne and Wairoa.”

“The National Government is wasting billions of dollars on a few big motorway projects that would never be able to pay their own way as standalone commercial projects. But it won’t invest in getting our rail line operating after poor maintenance let it wash away.”

“Most countries are now investing substantially in their rail networks because of the obvious economic benefits, especially as oil prices are expected to double in the next decade.”

Subsidies & Spinners

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Oil lobbyist David Robinson in a recent column said we should let the public make up their own minds: “we can argue back and forth, back and forth using hand-picked examples of why each point of view is right. But that’s not helping anyone.” Of course he included with this statement with a few hand-picked examples.

I guess I do have personal ideology as Mr Robinson claims but I don’t agree it should be ‘put aside’ – it’s an ideology that favours all of the relevant information being made available to the public so we can make free, prior and informed decisions. Any opposition I have has developed since looking beyond the industry PR spin ($185m worth of lobbying in the US alone last year) and trying to take seriously the science related to human use of petroleum and its impact on the planet.

Beyond the climate implications, it seems useful to refer to people with direct experience of the industry, like Caleb Behn who acknowledges the income that can be derived from oil. Weighing these benefits with the negative social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts in his homelands, Caleb is strongly opposed and warns others to look carefully at the situation in British Columbia and Alberta.

The farmer speaking in Gisborne this week is in no way ‘philosophically opposed to the oil and gas industry’ – if Mr Robinson had read her story in The Washington Post he would have seen that Ms. Vargson and her husband used to maintain a herd of dairy cattle but got out of that business because of methane getting into their well water, a fact confirmed by the state regulators. The couple now work at other jobs and worry their son won’t be able to farm there either. Ms. Vargson permitted drilling of a gas well in the pasture behind her home, but the experience has raised serious doubts. Drilling “can be done safely,” she said. “I believe that the technology is there.” But she added: “I believe that for the most part the industry takes a lot of shortcuts.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) and UK Royal Society’s fracking report probably hasn’t been widely promoted because it omits some key facts: the RAE’s ex-President is Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla, the UK’s leading fracker. Lord Browne was head of the RAE until last year and owns 30% of Cuadrilla.

The RAE is also part funded by the oil and gas industry. In the last three years the RAE has taken £601,000 from oil companies with links to fracking. The same organisation has awarded cash prizes to BP engineers for their work in hydraulic fracturing.

The influence of the oil and gas industry on the RAE has not decreased with Lord Browne’s departure. His successor – Sir John Parker – is closely connected to the fracking industry. Before taking over at the RAE, Parker headed Anglo American with their fracking interests in in South Africa. Parker is a gas man through and through – some of his previous positions include non-executive director at British Gas, Chairman of National Grid Transco (gas distribution) and non-executive of BG Group (which has coal bed methane interests in Scotland).

Mr Robinson says renewables are too expensive, I agree. If it wasn’t for the one trillion dollars of annual public subsidies awarded to the fossil fuel industries and permissive legislation that allows continued access to relatively cheap fossil fuels, renewable technology would be affordable to most of us.

It was great to hear Rod Drury this week talking about how his software company may soon overtake Fonterra as New Zealand’s largest business. IT entrepreneurs are keen to move to Gisborne for the lifestyle and environment it currently offers. Some locals have been in contact with a biochemicals company in California that has huge potential and is interested in establishing a demonstration plant on the East Coast. These seem like far more sensible opportunities for our community to encourage than the dirty business of oil.

What is the Purpose of Local Government?

The Local Government Act Amendment Bill has had its first reading in Parliament. One of the key parts of the bill is redefining the reason local government exists. Should councils be focused on priorities that local people agree on, or should they be just another branch of central government?

The basis of the proposed changes seems largely ideological rather than driven by a particular problem. Council debt, losses on tourist initiatives and rates rises above the rate of inflation have been the subject of regular media releases from central government. A very small number of councils have made mistakes and local government is partly responsible for the traction these stories get in the news. We’re not always great at helping the public understand the balancing act between local expectations, affordability and the existing regulatory frameworks council has to operate within.

Most councils seem to share concerns about the lack of evidence upon which the draft legislation is based and about the implications of working under legislation that hasn’t been well thought out. Similar reservation were expressed by the officials who submitted a statement along with the draft legislation and said they could find no evidence to support most of content of the bill. This lack of confidence was reinforced this week in the unanimous rejection of the proposed change of purpose at a meeting of all local government authorities.

Three separate public inquiries have concluded that the sector has not significantly expanded the scope of its activities since 2002. When pushed, the Prime Minister would not exclude things like social housing, swimming pools, libraries or tourism promotion from falling within the proposed new purposes. So the general feeling is that the current purpose is fine – the uncertainty created in the proposed new purposes would open up a can of worms in terms of legal challenges and that there was no problem that will be solved with the proposed change.

As has been suggested locally, I would be open to a social housing trust taking over Council housing if it had the experience and could prove it could do as good or better job than Gisborne District Council currently does as a landlord. Such a move would need to ensure the housing is provided to those who most need it, particularly as central government is similarly messing with the provision of social housing and has been criticized by its own Productivity Commission for having no clear plan or rationale for the changes.

I don’t think we should hold on to purely commercial assets if they aren’t consistently providing a return on investment better than what we’d get if we used the capital to pay off debt and reduce interest payments. As far as I can tell, the first asset to divest the Council of should be the farms. I struggle to understand why some people believe Council must maintain ownership of the farms while we pay millions in interest on debt. How ‘pragmatic’ is that?

The reality is the proposed change of purpose would not result in Council stopping anything it currently does, but it would give more fuel to fire of the ideologues who argue local government should take no interest in the wellbeing of our communities beyond roads and rubbish. A change of purpose would waste staff time defending the participatory planning processes that result in more enduring decisions than if we think councillors or staff know best. I also suspect it would undermine opportunities for Council, as the one fully democratically elected local entity, to have some influence on how our taxes and rates are spent to help meet the needs and aspirations of our communities.

Read This Report

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The global environment is changing and people are becoming more concerned about implications for the future. The purposes of this paper are to describe the global environmental status and trends, offer some explanations for why responses are slow and weak, examine the implications for New Zealand, and propose a strategy development agenda to reduce risks and take advantage of opportunities.

Ten Year Plan accelerates cycleways

It was very pleasing to see Council agree to bring forward the planned cycling and walkways in the Ten Year Plan.

Since we established the Cycling Advisory Group in 2009 with the support of the late Muriel Jones, the group has had ongoing input into Council engineering and road safety activities.

Annual submissions from many residents and feedback in surveys and community consultation has shown overwhelming support for Gisborne to be a more cycle-centric city.

I campaigned on cycling and walking infrastructure and it feels like I’ve been able to see some tangible progress in my first time. We’ve also made alternatives to the private motor car a top priority in the roading programme, so that is exciting.

Gisborne people want to be safe cycling and while the volume of logs on trucks is due to treble in next few years, we are working hard to minimise the number that need to come through the city.

Cycling makes sense for the economy, for health and for the environment. We have the whole package in Gisborne – good weather, flat terrain and a compact city. Research shows that as more people cycle it gets safer, so it’s great to see more and more people committed to cycling as much as possible.

It’s also exciting to hear that new cycle touring routes are being developed in the district – these are the tourists that move slowly through our communities, connecting with people and places as they go – some great opportunities for cycling-related businesses to develop over time.

Residents that may be affected by new cycleway projects should be reassured that they will have every opportunity to be informed about and have input into decisions around the planning, design and construction of new cycling and walkways. They may not agree with every decision and while public reserves are for everyone to enjoy we also need to consider the impacts on residents living close to the cycleways and walking tracks.