15 February 2010

Paramedic Media Stars against mining in conservation areas

My best mate, the Paramedic Media Star, is also strongly opposed to more mining in conservation areas. He has also written to the Government.

Dear Minister

I am extremely concerned about the Prime Ministers statement to Parliament that the Government intends to make "significant changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act ... to increase economic growth and create jobs".

By definition the land covered by Schedule 4 is of the highest conservation values and includes National Parks - "...areas of New Zealand that contain scenery of such distinctive quality, ecological systems, or natural features so beautiful, unique, or scientifically important that their preservation is in the national interest." National Parks Act (1980).

The Prime Minister then stated incorrectly that only 40 square km of land is mined in NZ. That figure is straight from the website of the Minerals Association. The correct figure is over 200 square km (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment), not including the land area for access requirements in the form of roads. The fact that the Prime Minister has used an incorrect figure from an association representing private sector mining companies, rather than his own Commissioner, is telling.

The economic benefit of mining is a one off with an on-going cost of the environmental clean up. Contrary to the PM's assertion that it is surgical mining analogous to keyhole surgery, the vast majority of mining is not of this nature and the huge issue is pollution of waterways in particular. Tourism and the intrinsic worth are sustainable; extractive mining is not.

Pristine wilderness areas such as those covered by Schedule 4 can only diminish as the world demands more resources. New Zealand is one of the few countries with legislation permitting mining to occur in National Parks. This has tarnished our reputation amongst international conservation organisations. Indeed, Australia, our closest neighbour held up as wealthy because of its mineral resources, bans mining in National Parks.

As Minister of Conservation, what are you doing to up hold the National Parks Act, that " [National Parks] shall be preserved as far as possible in their natural state...in perpetuity for their intrinsic worth"?

Our company worked on the film Avatar which was mostly filmed at Peter Jackson's studios in Wellington. Avatar is proving to be one of the most popular and profitable films in history connecting with mass audiences all over the world. One of the keys messages in Avatar, as the bulldozers destroyed the pristine wilderness of Pandora to mine the precious mineral "Unobtainium", was -"can't you see - the real wealth doesn't lie underground, but above the ground - it is all around you (in the eco-system)."

It appears that the National Government is ignoring this message.

Yours sincerely

Johnny Mulheron
Sideline Safety Ltd

Johnny will no doubt also go on the list of people that John Key's office will advise to expect a considered answer from the hon Ann Tolley, the part-Minister of Education.

Sierra Club and IUCN say 'mining in conservation areas: WTF?'

Metiria Turei and the Greens have highlighted that the Sierra Club has formally written to the Government to say what on earth are you doing thinking about mining in conservation areas. The Greens have made public a copy of the Sierra Club's letter.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has also commented on what message is sent by New Zealand, a relatively wealthy country, considering resource extraction from areas set aside for conservation of biodiversity.

I guess John Key's office will advise both groups that they can soon expect a considered answer from the hon Ann Tolley, the part-Minister of Education.

John Key owns shares in a mining company

I have just realised why John Key's private secretary has forwarded my email about mining in conservation areas to the Hon Ann Tolley, the part-Minister of Education.

It's to avoid conflicts of interest!

John Key owns shares in a mining company.

TV One's Q & A current affairs program
Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament: Summary 2009. Scroll through to page 36.

This has generated a few headlines.

Key criticised over shares in uranium mining company.

Key steps into a political minefield.

Actually, I think this is a side issue to the main issue that Key and Brownlee are using factually incorrect information to argue for mining in conservation areas.

14 February 2010

Russell Norman has the best Orwellian sound bites, like the Avatar bad guys

Russell Norman, the Green Party Co-leader, has the best one-liners on on Key and Brownlee's intention to open up more conservation areas to mining.

As John Key said "it is my expectation that the Government will ...make significant changes to Schedule 4" (the schedule of the Crown Minerals Act 1991 that prohibits mining in some conservation areas).

Recall that Key had said that the natural environment could be improved by the combination of more mining and a new conservation fund. In his address in reply speech, Norman described Key's language as 'Orwellian', that Key's logic was; In order to save the environment we have to destroy it.

Back in January, Norman compared Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee to the bad (mining) guys in the film Avatar, because of Brownlee's enthusiasm for mining conservation areas.

Way to go, Russell!

13 February 2010

More cognitive dissonance from the PM's office about mining

I posted a couple of days ago about emailing the Prime Minister John Key to express my disapproval of more mining in conservation areas. Yesterday, I received this email from the PM's private secretary.
From: "Briane Smith (MIN)"
To: johnsonr1@paradise.net.nz
Subject: Re: Comment on PM's 2010 Statement to Parliament and mining
Date: Friday, 12 February 2010 4:51 p.m.
On behalf of the Prime Minister, Hon John Key, I acknowledge your email concerning potential changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.
As the issue you have raised falls within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister of Education, I have forwarded your email on to the office of Hon Anne Tolley for her consideration.
Briane Smith Private Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister
Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail

What else can you say but WTF? Since when is mining in conservation areas or Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act anything to do with the Education portfolio or the hon Anne Tolley?

11 February 2010

John Key's greenwash of mining in conservation areas

John Key, in his Statement to Parliament, sought to down play the footprint of mining and therefore to imply that mining of conservation areas was not such a big deal.
"Mining in New Zealand uses just 40 square kilometres of land, less than 0.015 percent of our total land area. The export value of that land however is $175,000 per hectare, which makes mining an extremely valuable use of land."
The assertion works on a simple level: fact (mining area very small) then value judgment (mining okay in conservation areas). A perfect soundbite. Questionable logic. Bad value judgment. However, even the simple part, the 'fact', 40km2, is wrong.

Key appears to be parroting Gerry Brownlee who has used the '40 square kilometres of mining' 'fact' in Parliament in mid September 2009.

So where does the statement "40 square kilometres of land, less than 0.015 percent of our total land area" come from?

I think Brownlee and Key must have got it from the mining industry. The website of the New Zealand Mineral Industry Association has this very similar statement on their website.
"Current mining activities area disturbing an area of less than 30 square kilometres and mine sites are being rehabilitated progressively."
While I read Key's speech, I immediately thought that 40km2 was far too small a footprint for all the mining in New Zealand and after 5 minutes on the internet I confirmed that 40 km2 significantly understates the mining area.

On 21 October 2009, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, noted that there are 111 mining licences ( authorising 82 mines), that operate without resource consents. In other words, the existence of the mining licence prior to 1991 allowed the mining to continue without resource consent under the Resource Management Act.

Dr Wright's recommendation to the Government was that this was a loophole in mining and resource management law which needed to be closed so that the holders of the 111 licences were required to operate under resource consents with up to date monitoring and mitigation conditions.

Dr Wright released a list of the 111 licences that showed that they cover a total licence area of 20,784 hectares (207.84 km2), of which 3,019 hectares are within conservation land (30.19 km2).

According to the MED Crown Minerals annual report 2008-2009 (PDF 1.8MB), on page 16, there are 508 mining permits/licences in New Zealand. So there are another 397 mining licences not included in the land area of 20,784 hectares.

Roughly, the total area must be about double or triple the 20,784 hectares (or 200 km2). So, the 40km2 is not only wrong, it's wrong by an order of magnitude for the area of 508 licences.

My values say to me that mining in conservation areas will have significant and irreversible adverse environmental effects. My experience in resource management backs that up. John Key and Gerry Brownlee are making statements of fact that are simply wrong to argue that mining is okay in conservation areas. This is transparently greenwashing and it says very little for their ability to fact check or to critically assess the viewpoint of the mining industry.

09 February 2010

Ask not what can you do for conservation...ask what can conservation do for mining

John Key's statement to Parliament proposes more economic growth through more mining in conservation areas. He states that mining uses only 40 square kilometres of land which is less than 0.015 percent of NZ's total land; that new mining will meet strict environmental tests and that increased mining will improve the natural environment via an "off-setting" conservation fund. I have included his words at the end of the post

I immediately sent this email to John Key.


Dear Mr Key,

I have just read your Statement to Parliament about economic goals. I am absolutely shocked and disappointed that your Government intends to increase mining on conservation lands via a review of Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. That policy is completely contrary to the statutory conservation management purpose of those lands.

I am astounded that you as the Minister of Tourism cannot see how damaging this is to 'Brand New Zealand', our clean and green image.

I am also completely unconvinced by your assertion that mining will have to meet strict environmental tests and your comment that mining only occupies 40 hectares of land in the whole of New Zealand. The area of land occupied is not a good indicator of the level of adverse effects of mining. Have you not heard of acid mine drainage, the water pollution from heavy metals which flows out from mines and into rivers? Does your quoted return per hectare from mining include rehabilitation of water ways?

It is clear to me that of all land uses in New Zealand, mining has the highest adverse environmental impact per hectare. It is simply nonsense to suggest that this damage can be either mitigated or compensated for.

I urge you instead to do two things.

The first is to provide statutory protection from mining for all conservation land as if Schedule 4 included all conservation land.

Secondly I urge you to follow up on the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's recommendation that current mines on conservation land be required to replace their antiquated mining permits that have no environmental safeguards with adequate consents with up to date mitigation conditions.

Yours sincerely

Here are the paragraphs of his statement concerning mining in conservation areas.

"There is also extraordinary economic potential in the mineral estate residing in Crown-owned land. Mining in New Zealand uses just 40 square kilometres of land, less than 0.015 percent of our total land area. The export value of that land however is $175,000 per hectare, which makes mining an extremely valuable use of land.

The Government will shortly be releasing a discussion document for public consultation on potential changes to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. Schedule 4 is the part of the Crown Minerals Act which prohibits mining or prospecting on specified areas of Crown land.

The discussion document will recommend that some areas of Crown land be removed from Schedule 4 and in addition that some areas currently not in Schedule 4 be added to it.

Notwithstanding the public consultation process, it is my expectation that the Government will act on at least some of these recommendations and make significant changes to Schedule 4. This is because new mining on Crown land has the potential to increase economic growth and create jobs.

I know some people have expressed concern about increased mining but I can assure New Zealanders that any new mines on conservation land will have to meet strict environmental tests.

Moreover, the Government is also proposing to establish a new Conservation Fund, potentially drawing on royalty revenue from mining operations on Crown land. The Conservation Fund would resource special conservation projects around the country. That means that if there is an increase in mining activity, New Zealand’s natural environment would also be improved."

06 February 2010

New Zealand's climate change policy takes us down the Yale Environment Performance Index

Kiwiblog notes that New Zealand ranks 15th in the Environmental Performance Index 2010. No Right Turn notes that New Zealand's rank has fallen from 7th to 15th.

Rather than blog about it I thought I would graph it. Note that New Zealand is doing worst in all the climate change categories. That high score for agricultural subsidies, fourth in the list, is because the taxpayer is going to subsidise the agriculture sector under the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme.

To see or download the dotchart, it is on Wikimedia Commons.