Submission on the exposure draft of the proposed changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater
IntroductionSubmitted on 10 July 2022: Read the NZCA's submission on the exposure draft of the proposed changes to the NPS-FM and NES-F (including wetland regulations).
The Legislative Basis for the New Zealand Conservation Authority’s submission
- The New Zealand Conservation Authority (the Authority) was established under the Conservation Act 1987 (the Act), with members appointed by the Minister of Conservation (the Minister). It is an independent statutory body with a range of functions, but primarily acts as an independent conservation advisor to the Minister and the Director-General of Conservation.
- The Authority has roles as an objective advocate on matters of national significance and interest in the conservation arena, and to provide high quality independent advice to the Minister and Department of Conservation (Department) on the Department’s strategic direction and performance.
- The Authority has a range of powers and functions, under the Act, as well as under other conservation related legislation. Under the Act (section 6C(2)(c) refers), the Authority has the power to “advocate the interests of the Authority at any public forum or in any statutory planning process.”
- The Authority submitted on Managing our wetlands: A discussion document on proposed changes to the wetland regulations, published September 2021 by the Ministry for the Environment.
- In accordance with its powers and functions, the Authority wishes to comment on the Exposure Drafts.
The Authority’s submission
- The Authority’s submission is based on its analysis of:
- Exposure draft of proposed changes to the NPS-FM and NES-F (including wetland regulations)
- Report, recommendations, and summary of submissions on Managing our Wetlands.
- Managing our Wetlands: Policy rationale for exposure draft amendments
- The Authority supports changes to encourage further wetland restoration. New Zealand’s wetlands have been reduced on average to less than 10 percent of their original extent; in some regions, only two or three percent of wetland extent remains. Wetland destruction is Unnecessary barriers to wetland restoration activities should generally be avoided.
- The Authority notes, however, that caution is required where restoration activities have the potential to impact on wetland flora and fauna (i.e., the whole biota) that may be vulnerable to poorly planned restoration works. Council oversight (e.g. a resource consent) may be appropriate where restoration activities involving chemical sprays or mechanised tools are proposed in wetlands known to be habitat for native species.
Proposals for additional consent pathways
- The NES-F provides for a range of permitted activities; ‘specified infrastructure’ is provided for as discretionary activity, and, earthworks, vegetation clearance etc. are provided for as non-complying activities. The Authority notes that the key change proposed in the consultation document is to alter the rules to enable a greater range of activities to clear vegetation, undertake earthworks, and take, divert or drain water within or close to wetlands.
- The Authority does not support the proposal to provide a “consenting pathway” for quarries, landfills, cleanfills, mines, water storage infrastructure and “plan enabled” urban activities. The international law principle of non-regression prevents recession of environmental law or existing levels of environmental protection in the common interest of In simple terms, the proposed amendments are a large step backwards for wetland protection.
- The consultation document does not give confidence that the ‘gateway’ tests of regional importance and functional need, alongside the requirement to follow the ‘effects management hierarchy’, will ensure protection of wetlands.
- The Authority is particularly concerned at the proposal to allow coal mining to adversely affect wetlands. Ongoing thermal coal extraction is incompatible with climate targets. There is no public interest in allowing coal mining to impact wetlands: this does not represent sustainable management. Wetlands are carbon sinks, so removal of wetlands for coal mining has the double climate impact of removing a sink as well as creating a new source of carbon.
Offsetting and compensation
- The definitions of offsetting and compensation are particularly concerning as they anticipate wetland loss, which may or may not be addressed by compensatory measures. There is no evidence base demonstrating that compensatory measures (such as enhancement of other wetlands, or construction of new wetlands) are sufficient to ensure the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, including for biodiversity and carbon sequestration, will be maintained. This concern (which was also expressed in relation to the Managing our Wetlands consultation) is not addressed by the inclusion of offsetting and compensation principles, because the only requirement is for councils to be satisfied that the applicant has had regard to those principles. The Authority submits that the NPS-FM should be amended to require compliance with the offsetting or compensation principles.
Definition of natural wetland
- The Authority supports amendments to the definition of natural wetlands to recognise that wetlands that are dominated by exotic pasture species may contain threatened species, and to ensure that if these species exist the wetland is defined as a natural wetland, and the regulations apply, regardless of the extent of pasture species cover.
- The Authority submits that this should be extended to apply to at risk and taonga species, consistent with sections 6(c), 6(e) and 8 RMA.