Young accuses PM of mining policy misinformation

18 December

National’s Energy and Resources spokesperson Jonathan Young has called out Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for making misleading statements on mining policy.

Ardern spoke today on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report in relation to the release of Green Party information requests of officials during post-election negotiations with Labour.  

Young said: “There was serious misinformation in the PM’s comments about lack of environmental factors in the decision-making process around permitting new mines and new petroleum exploration and production.”

“The implication of her comments is that these industries are operating as mavericks with little regard to environmental impacts, which is far from the case.”

The information released last Friday by the State Services Commission said the economic cost to New Zealand of having no new coal mines was up to $441 million in the long term.

The figures for no new offshore petroleum drilling indefinitely were $6.2 billion, and no new fracking consents, $8.8 billion.

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods’s Office was approached for comment. Questions Inside Resources posed last month to Woods on this topic have not been answered.

PM Jacinda Ardern’s comments

Ardern said: “We have come in and seen that the basis on which the energy minister can even make a decision is hugely constrained.”

“We want to be able to add environmental factors to that decision-making process so that can be taken into consideration around issues like that. We have discovered our hands are tied.”

The Prime Minister also said Labour has “always been open” about the policy direction of no new mines on conservation land.

“We've taken a position that we don't want new mining, new coal mining on the conservation estate but otherwise we've talked very firmly about the need to transition those economies and those industries rather than put blanket bans in place.”

Environmental management of extractive industries

In response, Young said: “It appears the PM is wanting more of these powers to be in the hands of the Minister of Energy and Resources, and that has the potential to move the decision-making away from a scientific approach into the political arena. That is not a good move.”

Mining projects already require rigorous environmental scrutiny, as do petroleum permit applications, he said.

For mining, there are rigorous environmental considerations under the Conservation Act, Resource Management Act, Wildlife Act, and in relation to access arrangements to Crown land, under the Crown Minerals Act.

The Crown Minerals Act already requires a high-level assessment of a permit applicant’s capability to manage the environmental effects of their project.  

The bigger picture

Young said there is a bigger picture to consider in the Government’s approach to extractive industries, if it is determined to transition New Zealand into a low-carbon future.

“It is simply this – it won’t help us move into a lower emission world by making people poorer.”

“Lost royalties and revenues to the Crown amounting to $15 billion, would only serve to slow down the move to a low-emissions economy here in New Zealand, by creating severe social and economic disruption in regions like Taranaki and the West Coast,” Young said.

“These industries are substantial contributors to the country’s GDP, at a time when we all know the government is running out of money.”

Young’s comments on the conservation estate

When the Department of Conservation was founded in April 1987, Young said, vast tracts of land were transferred to it from the then Department of Lands and Survey, and from the Forestry Corporation, being land no longer needed for farming or forestry.

“As the Conservation Minister, Eugene Sage, has replied to me currently, 42.2 per cent of conservation land is not covered by indigenous forests, which will include much of this land.”

“For the Government to ban all mining from conservation land - that means there will be land which doesn’t have high conservation value, which Lands and Survey, and Forestry Corp didn’t want to utilise.”

“This decision needs some serious scrutiny as it has the potential to wipe out billions of dollars from New Zealand's GDP.”

“The balance is that we want high-value conservation land left pristine, but there will be land that mining operations can utilise and once rehabilitated may actually be improved.”