Zombie ETS infects RMA with climate insanity

by Mr February on May 7, 2012

Simon Johnson/aka Mr February argues that the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme has become living-dead “zombie” legislation that infects other statutes with its own virulent climate change insanity. The example is a recent decision by the Environment Court that it can’t consider climate change impacts of coal mining as described by James Hansen in the Forest and Bird appeal of the resource consents for the opencast ‘Escarpment’ coal mine.

The other week I watched the zombie genre film 28 Weeks Later. The turning point in the film came when British actor Robert Carlyle kissed his wife and was instantly infected with the ‘Rage Virus’, which of course meant he had to turn into a homicidal-virus spreading-living-dead zombie who would then infect the rest of the surviving population of post-Rage Virus London. A great zombie movie moment!

For me, another much less amusing zombie moment, was last week’s news from TVNZ, Radio NZ, the Otago Daily Times, and the Dominion Post, that the Environment Court had declared that climate change effects from coal mining will not be considered in Forest and Bird’s appeal of the consents granted for the Escarpment Mine Project, an opencast coal mine on the ecologically sensitive Denniston Plateau.

For background to the Escarpment Mine Project, including James Hansen’s videotaped climate change evidence given to Jeanette Fitzsimons, and the conservation and biodiversity issues, see Claire Brownings Pundit post. And there is wildlife photographer Rod Morris’ view that the mine proposal is simply ecological destruction on a massive scale. Botanist Alan Mark reminds us that the coal measure landscape of the Denniston Plateau is the only one left as Solid Energy have destroyed the other one — the Stockton Plateau.

According to the Dominion Post, Judge Newhook’s decision was that:

…”regulatory activity on the important topic of climate change is taken firmly away from regional government and made the subject of appropriate attention from time to time by central government by way of activity at a national level”.

If we are at all unclear what that means, coal apologist and Stratera boss Chris Baker explains that this means the NZETS: “We have an emissions trading scheme, we are well ahead of our obligation internationally…“.

The utter illogic of the “we have an ETS, more coal mining and exporting is okay” argument is that although the NZETS applies to all coal mined within New Zealand, all coal exported is exempted. Bathhurst Resources intends to export all the coal from the Escarpment Mine. So the application of the zombie NZETS to coal mining means that there will be no carbon price on the coal from the Escarpment Mine.

And this zombie effect of the NZETS in making coal “alive but dead” to a carbon price, then infects the application of our great sustainability-promoting externality-internalising Resource Management Act. The coal exports are “regulated” (in reality protected) by the NZETS. Therefore the RMA doesn’t apply.

The consequence will be that the Environment Court will not be considering the effects of the Escarpment Mine on a level playing field. They will attempt to reach a broad overall judgement of what is sustainable. They will balance the economic effects of more export dollars and jobs on the West Coast against the many adverse environmental impacts on a unique coal measure ecosystem full of rare and endangered endemic species. But the process won’t be neutral, as the adverse impact and externality of the greenhouse effect of the coal won’t be included.

[Simon's choice: The Cranberries. Gareth: The Zombies.]

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryan Walker May 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm

The Government is not going to let climate change stop us from cashing in on our fossil fuel reserves. They’ve made that clear many times over. This is further evidence of how they’ve protected against the possibility of anything interfering with that stream of income. It’s a crass denial of the seriousness of global warming.

Mr February May 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm

An update. The Environment Court decision is available from the West Coast Regional Council’s Escarpment Mine/” webpage.

password1 May 8, 2012 at 9:53 am

The amendment to the RMA to remove climate change effects from the considerations of consent decision makers was made well before the ETS was concieved. So that’s a basic thought in your opinion that is wrong.

Although it is unclear, I think you want two things here:
1) that resource consents be required for activities even if the resulting ghg emissions occur outside NZ
2) that coal mined in NZ is included in the ETS even if the emissions occur overseas and are not included in NZ’s inventory of emissions.

Both have problems. Local decision making on ghg emitting activities or mined fuels will result in inconsistent decisions between regions and a doubling up on ‘controls’ with national policies like the ETS. Pricing of emissions from coal mined and exported is not supported by the international climate change treaties, and would probably result in the purchasers simply buying coal from somewhere else with no impact on global emissions.

rata May 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

in reality, the 2004 RMA amendment was passed under the assumption that there would be a price on carbon, which at that stage was going to be a carbon tax. the labour government changed its mind about the carbon tax and introduced a weak ETS which was further weakened by the national government. so mr february is essentially correct – considering climate change in granting resource consents to discharge to air was specifically excluded because it was envisaged that these discharges would be ‘covered’ by a charge on carbon.

neither of password1’s points (1) or (2) stack up. no-one is suggesting that export coal be included in the ETS, and hence there will be no ‘doubling up on controls’ because the ETS does not ‘control’ export coal.

it seems wrong that the climate change impacts of mining export coal can apparently not even be considered in the overall balancing under the RMA.

password1 May 9, 2012 at 11:36 am

The two points I identified were what I thought Mr Feb was postulating. He needs to be clearer on what his preferred solution is,and why. Perhaps it is for air discharge consents to include climate change considerations. How then would this take into account that the discharges are not in the control of the miner, are outside NZ, and cannot be tracked to specific evironmental damage, and what precedents would this set? What about, oh, the manufacture and export of fridges containing HFCs? Will those manufacturers also be required to have air discharge consents? Sounds like nonsense to me, and not especially well thought through by either you or Mr Feb.

Mr February May 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Well said, Rata!

Kiwiiano May 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm

The trouble with discounting all your exported carbon is that your are then morally obliged to include all your imported carbon consumption in the ETS. Given the staggering amounts of junk piled high in our shops from China, the yards full of 2nd-hand Japanese cars and so on, we could run very much in the energy red. Somehow I can’t see the Gummint swallowing that one.

password1 May 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

And utterly impossible to apply as well as unnecessary when international obligations rest on emitters, not the consumer or the fuel producer.

Kiwiiano May 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Unfortunately we’re all in Lifeboat Earth together. Coal dug today will be burnt tomorrow. The car that is 10x bigger than necessary will release vastly more CO2. The 3rd pregnancy, the new motorway, the holiday in Europe, the steak sandwich, life is full of moral fishhooks, that Jo Voter and thus their Elected Repreentative will cheerfully ignore.

And yes, I’m as guilty as anyone.

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