A new report released today shows that officials under Environment Minister Nick Smith are largely ignoring councils who fail to enforce environmental law, leaving our natural places vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
On the enforcement of environmental law under the Resource Management Act (RMA), the Environmental Defence Society and Law Foundation report found that:
- “The Ministry for the Environment gives compliance and enforcement relatively little priority…" and that “Councils have, for the most part, been left to do the job alone" (see page 34)
- 60% of surveyed council officers identified instances where their employer looked the other way on breaches of environmental law (see page 36
- Some councils say they have “no money for prosecutions” or “have a policy of not issuing fines” for environmental breaches (see page 36)
- Eight district councils allowed elected councillors to decide on whether or not to prosecute breaches under the RMA (see page 48)
“Our environmental laws are there to protect our rivers, our lakes, and our native forests, and ensure that nature thrives for present and future generations. This is all put at risk when Government and councils ignore flagrant violations of the law," said Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage.
“It’s possible Nick Smith hasn’t noticed the hole in his Ministry where the monitoring and enforcement team should be.
“It's more likely that the National Government likes a culture that lets councils off the hook for not prosecuting environmental breaches.
"The RMA has been law for 25 years, yet the report says the Ministry for the Environment has done only one substantive report on compliance, monitoring and enforcement in that time.
“Failure to enforce the law is effectively relaxing environmental law behind closed doors.
"If councils aren’t held to account, we’ll likely see more examples of farms expanding onto the banks of Canterbury rivers with impunity, landowners destroying wetlands and native shrublands, and land developers careless about sediment pollution in streams.
“I doubt Nick Smith even knows how widespread these kinds of breaches already are, given his own Ministry hasn't been monitoring the situation properly.
“In Government, the Green Party will establish a specialist environmental enforcement team within the Ministry for the Environment. Rogue councils and officials will be held to account if they don't enforce the law.
“Right now, having elected councillors on some district councils decide if prosecutions should go ahead opens the door for cronyism and corruption. We would change the law to stop this poor practice," Ms Sage said.