Category Archives: West Coast Environment Network

Getting used to the ‘new normal’

Cow in dry weather, Wairarapa.  Photo Dave Allen, NIWA

Cow in dry weather, Wairarapa. Photo Dave Allen, NIWA

As I flew up the country from Wellington to Auckland this week, on yet another beautiful day, I was struck by the colour of our country.

Brown. Burned to a crisp.  The occasional smattering of green forest, but an island suffering from its  worst drought in 70 years, as I’d heard climate scientist Jim Salinger saying on the radio that morning.

Next I’m listening to Bill English saying farmers can’t expect get the same level of support in future droughts, if they continue to happen with more frequency, as NIWA tells us they will.

Meanwhile John Key is in Brazil pleading with oil giant Petrobras to come back, and an industry-written report tells us we should drill all over the East Coast.

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Coal vs climate at Supreme Court

Press release from the West Coast Environment Network 
11 March 2013

Headline of Businessweek after Sandy hit New York - will the Supreme Court understand the important link between coal extraction and climate change?

Headline of Businessweek after Sandy hit New York – will the Supreme Court understand the important link between coal extraction and climate change?

A small West Coast environment group will face off against two large coal companies – Australian Bathurst Resources and state-owned Solid Energy – at the Supreme Court this week, arguing that climate change is relevant for coal mining consents.

“Even the companies admit that their coal will contribute to climate change,” says West Coast Environment Network spokesperson Lynley Hargreaves. “So we should be able to call evidence on it.”
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Mt William North: Sharon McGarry Did Not Save The Day

Rosemary Penwarden writes:

Sharon McGarry did not save the day. Mt William stands in line as the next mountaintop removal on the Stockton plateau. It’s the sequel to a very sad story of ignorance, intimidation and elephants; my experience opposing Solid Energy’s proposal for a new open cast coal mine on 243 hectares of Mt William on the Stockton plateau, just beyond the famous Happy Valley. It’s also a lesson to me as a first time submitter at a council RMA hearing; our legal system is wearing a blindfold.

The three independent commissioners, like three blind mice, including Sharon, who presumably still thinks carbon dioxide makes holes in the ozone layer (see The Mt William North Hearings: Ignorance, Intimidation and Elephants), have given Solid Energy the green light to take the top off Mt William (“top down” mining, they call it).

And, even though the local tangata whenua consider Mt William to be of cultural significance, mountains being their gateway to the atua (gods), Dr Ruth Bartlett, Solid Energy’s Manager of Consents and Planning, has an excellent working relationship with them so it’s ok to take their mountain away. Afterwards Solid Energy will erect a serpentine rock pou, with carved inscription, to commemorate what they’ve lost. No worries. (1)

Oh, and landscape architect Frank Boffa says that, from a distance, you will sort of see what it used to be like – a hump here, a hollow there – you know, like the ridgeline that was built up over millennia? (2) Albeit at a lower altitude you understand. Jolly good of them, don’t you think? Ruth said we don’t want anything too jagged left at Mt William anyway because the surrounding area will be low – that’s because anything greater than a sixteen degree angle up on the plateau, post mining, will be washed away by the six metre per annum rainfall – and it’s better to be in keeping with the (new) existing surroundings. (3) Anyway, they need the coal from underneath the jagged bit too.

Of course, those unique sandstone pavements, 34.4 hectares’ worth, will have to go. But oh well, there are offsets, mitigations and compensations and it all comes out in the wash to a Target Final Landform Plan, and what with some predator control for a few years in a completely different area, hey presto! A nice net biodiversity gain all round! I don’t know; the things you can do with ‘science’ these days.

Anyway, not many people go there, which in Frank’s eyes could be an argument to diminish the area’s importance. (4)

Then there’s the compelling economic argument for blasting the top off Mt William: 17 jobs and two further years of mining.

Used to be impossible to move mountains.

We mustn’t forget the wider economic benefits to the region; the two-speed economy for instance, part of the ‘boom’ portion in a mining town’s inevitable boom-and-bust cycle. House prices are rocketing in Westport. Great for some, very bad for those who don’t earn miners’ salaries to cover rent or mortgage payments.

Now, how did those commissioners make their difficult decision? On the one hand: irreversible destruction of 243 hectares of a near pristine environment, habitat for up to 59 great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haastii – threatened), land snails (Powelliphanta patrickensis – threatened) – which are site specific, so that each small region has its own snail subspecies – West Coast green geckos (Naultinus tuberculatus – declining), South Island kaka (nationally endangered), Western weka (at risk – declining), South Island fernbird (at risk – declining), NZ pipit (at risk – declining), South Island rifleman (at risk – declining), the low-growing woody subshrub Dracophyllum densum (declining), the endemic coal-measures tussock Chionochloa juncea (declining), and Parkinson’s rātā (Metrosideros parkinsonii) – mustn’t forget the eventual discharge of around 13 million tonnes of climate warming carbon dioxide into the world’s atmosphere. On the other hand: two more years of mining and 17 jobs for some lucky 12-hours-a-day, 7-day-on, 7-off drivers. Tough choice!

Mining Mt William may not be the final blow to the declining and endangered species that live there, and those 13 million tonnes of CO2 may or may not initiate runaway climate change, but in the words of expert chemist Bob Cunningham, who kindly provided me with information about ocean acidification which the commissioners refused to let me read out at the hearing: “…it is from small beginnings that momentous occasions result.” The way mice nibble away at your cheese.

It must be easier to make such choices whilst blindfolded. During the hearing, Climate Change, our gorgeous dreadlocked elephant, sat politely in the front row of the Westport Bridge Club while submitters spoke on his behalf. Sharon would not have recognised him anyway, but the other two commissioners, even had they noticed his pink floppy ears and sad round eyes, were not allowed to acknowledge him, not even to cast a cursory glance his way.

Three Elephants

That’s because he has been banished by the Environment Court. Climate Change, the most important environmental issue facing the world today, banished by our own Environment Court and called irrelevant by the coal miners’ legal representative, Chapman Tripp.

The lawyers told local governments not to worry their heads over Climate Change. Leave it to them, they say, to that legal piece of national weasel wizardry, loved by all big fossil fuel emitters: the Emissions Trading Scheme. The ETS works wonders for Solid Energy – we, the taxpayers, subsidise 90% of their NZ emissions and anything exported doesn’t count. They get to pollute our atmosphere for next to nothing!

There it is; a sad story of three blind mice, one elephant, and a mountain.

Notes

(1) See http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/hearing.html: Ruth Bartlett – Consultation
(2) See http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/application.html – 13: Landscape
(3) See http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/hearing.html: Ruth Bartlett – Consultation
(4) See http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/hearing.html: Frank Boffa – Landscape

The Mt William North Hearings: Ignorance, Intimidation, and Elephants

Sharon McGarry thinks carbon dioxide makes holes in the ozone layer.

No, not a year nine science student but a commissioner; one of three in Westport recently entrusted with the task of unravelling the scientific and economic data pertinent to the next mountaintop removal on the Stockton Plateau –Mt William North.

The realisation that Ms McGarry did not have even a basic grasp of the science behind climate change was a shock, but the whole experience of submitting at this council hearing was a series of curious events.

I was at the Westport Bridge Club to speak to my submission opposing Solid Energy’s proposal to mine 5.4 million tonnes of new coal at Mt William. If mined, this coal will send approximately 13 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, widen even more the gap between reality and our international emissions obligations, further shred our clean green image, and destroy more endangered flora and fauna on the plateau.

Less than two weeks before the hearing submitters received a letter telling us that, due to the recent Environment Court declaration, the commissioners were “not able to have regard to any evidence or submissions concerning the effects on climate change of discharges into air arising from the subsequent burning of coal.”

Yes, that’s right, our supreme environmental statute, the RMA, is legally unable to consider the greatest environmental threat facing humanity; climate change. Even though this ruling is under appeal the commissioners chose not to delay the Mt William hearing.

Some of us still spoke about climate change, understanding it would be ignored. We also talked about ocean acidification, another effect of CO2 emissions not ruled out in the commissioner’s letter. With a wave of her arm Ms McGarry dismissed such talk: “We all know CO2 makes holes in the ozone”. After a short silence of disbelief it became clear that ocean acidification was also going to be banned, along with climate change. Curious how the rules appeared to change as the day progressed.

Curious too, was the presence of 20 or so Solid Energy workers in the back of the room dressed in orange safety gear and boots. They looked a little out of place accepting tea and bikkies from the lovely Bridge Club lady.

Then again, those of us opposing the proposal had brought our own curious sight – an elephant, sitting in the front row taking notes, dreads tied neatly back. At lunchtime he stood outside the entrance with a placard “Say NO to New Coal Extraction” while an orange-coated ‘worker’ shovelled coal under a carpet and a large banner explained to passers by and to the orange-garbed Solid Energy workers: “Climate Change is the Elephant in the Room”.

Standing nearby taking photographs was yet another curious sight – a dark suited character straight out of an American crime show. It turned out he worked for ProVision, also called Thompson and Clark Investigations Ltd, the agency caught out in 2007 for planting spies in the ranks of the Happy Valley protesters – paid for by Solid Energy: see http://www.nickyhager.info/i-was-paid-to-betray-protesters/

Opposers to Solid Energy’s application had been allocated the whole day to speak. We represented individuals and groups, locals and ‘outsiders’, whitebaiters, grandmothers, doctors and environmentalists.

I did not get my turn until the following morning. By then the workers in their safety gear had gone, replaced by Solid Energy’s demurely attired ecologist. No shady character outside. It seemed the commissioners needed only hear one more ‘pesky’ environmentalist, then get back to business. I had come 700 km to speak on behalf of myself and two other submitters, but the commissioners wanted to dismiss my second and third submissions without even hearing them. After I finished, as I left the room I could see it being cosily re-arranged so the Commissioners and their “friends” could finish the hearing in a more informal setting.

Then it was the local councils’ turn. I don’t hold out much hope for the councils; they don’t seem to take climate change that seriously. New developments are permitted at sea level all along the Coast. The Regional Council’s own fancy new building at Greymouth appears to rely on a few sand dunes to combat sea level rise.

The next day I visited Mordor (Stockton) itself, stood on black sludge 30 metres below where Mt Augustus should have been – mountaintop removal, Kiwi style. I looked over to Happy Valley, now renamed the Cypress Extension in an attempt to erase its colourful history of protest. The contrast between that untouched valley, the mountain beyond, and the hell below my feet was distressing. The land reclamation is a joke. Up there, anything at an angle greater than 16 degrees gets washed away. You can’t put a mountain back.

Beyond Happy Valley sat Mt William. Mt William, the next mountain top removal project. Or not? Will Sharon McGarry save the day?

– Rosemary Penwarden.

Check out images of the protest at the hearing – including the elephant!

Elephant in the room at Westport hearing

For Immediate Release
25/05/2012

An ‘elephant’ will attend a coal mining resource consent hearing in Westport on Monday, representing the climate change concerns environment groups are banned from voicing.

Resource consent commissioners, put in place by the Buller District Council and West Coast Regional Council, directed that submitters not present evidence on climate change at the hearing for the Mt William North mining proposal. This follows a recent Environment Court decision that climate concerns cannot be taken into account on coal mining consents.

“Climate change is going to impact our lives, and our grandchildren’s – we’ll be paying to clean up the mess coal makes of our climate and oceans for thousands of years. Our environmental laws should let us take that into account,” says West Coast Environment Network spokesperson Lynley Hargreaves.

The Environment Court decision not allowing consideration of climate change – focused on new coal mines proposed by Australian company Bathurst Resources and state-owned miner Solid Energy – has now been appealed by West Coast Environment Network and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.

A peaceful rally outside the hearing will include street theatre – coal swept beneath the carpet, under the watchful eye of a ‘climate change’ elephant. “Our groups all wanted to present evidence on climate change, for example that New Zealand is meeting only a fraction of the commitments it has signed up to, but we have been told we are not allowed. Climate change really is the elephant in the room,” says Rosemary Penwarden of Coal Action Network Aotearoa.
“Nearly 150,000 people have signed a ‘No New Coal, No New Oil’ petition calling for moves to a clean economy. This would be a major new coal mine in an ecologically sensitive area – it’s time to say no,” she adds.

Groups being heard at the hearing and supporting the rally include Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand (ECO), Climate Defence Network, Ora Taiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council, Coal Action Network Aotearoa, West Coast Environment Network, Buller Conservation Group and the Biodiversity Defence Society. There are also a number of individuals from across the South Island submitting in opposition to the mine.

For more information, contact:
Lynley Hargreaves, West Coast Environment Network, 037554227
Rosemary Penwarden, Coal Action Network Aotearoa, 0221856966
Colin Robertson, personal submission, 02102468528

Urgent request for submissions

Kia ora koutou,

Solid Energy have proposed another huge mine on Mt William on the South Island’s West Coast. Submissions close Monday 19th March.

We would really like as many people as possible to submit against the mine because of its climate change impacts (and any other impacts that you wish to cover). We are therefore making this request of all our supporters and urge you to pass it on to others who may be interested as well.

We have included the following information to make it as quick and easy as possible for you to complete a submission:
1. A simple template for the submission
2. Ideas for points to include.
3. Extra information from Lynley Hargreaves of West Coast ENT as well as their draft submission.

You can email your submission to the West Coast Regional Council (info@wcrc.govt.nz) and it also needs to be served on Solid Energy (info@solidenergy.co.nz attn Ruth Bartlett).

Thank you

Coal Action Network Aotearoa

1. Your submission can be very simple. It can just follow this template:

Submission to West Coast Regional Council and Buller District Council:
Mt William North Mining Project
Resource Consent numbers:
RC11181/1-RC11181/10
RC11/132A, RC11/132B

Submission by: [Insert name or organisation here]

Address for service:
[Actual address]
[Phone number/s]
[Email]

1. This submission opposes the whole of the application.

2. [Organisation name or “I”] contend that the proposal will adversely affect the environment in a way that is more than minor. [My /Our] specific concerns include:
– Climate change effects
[-Insert other concerns you have here, e.g. loss of ecosystem, water pollution]

3. [Include a paragraph or more outlining your concerns regarding coal and climate here, in your own words. You may wish to use information from: https://coalactionnetworkaotearoa.wordpress.com/ If you are short of time, you do not need to include this paragraph]

3. [I/We] seek the following decision from the consent authority:
: Decline the application in its entirety

4. We [wish / do not wish] to be heard in support of our submission. To reduce cost and inconvenience to all parties, we ask that the District and Regional council consent hearings be heard together.

[Name, signature, organisation]

2. You may like to include some of the following points:

  • Burning and mining coal is the most efficient and fastest way to bring about disastrous climate change
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) represents the major portion climate changing greenhouse gases.
  • Coal emits 29% more CO2 per unit of energy than oil and 80% more than natural gas. The long term costs of coal seriously outweigh any short term economic benefits.
  • Coal mining has serious health implications for workers and locals, including respiratory illness from coal dust.
  • Environmental impacts include waterway contamination by toxic levels of heavy minerals such as mercury, aluminium, manganese and zinc, as well as propagation of sulphuric acid called Acid Mine Drainage. This severely degrades water quality and is toxic to aquatic life forms poisoning and smothering them with deposits of heavy minerals.
  • Coal mining cannot be seriously considered if New Zealand is to maintain its reputation as ‘clean and green’, nor its commitments to international climate change agreements.

3. Further information from West Coast ENT:

Hello everyone,

Submissions are due on Solid Energy’s proposed Mt William North mine at 5pm this Friday (since extended to Monday 19th). You can email your submission to the West Coast Regional Council (info@wcrc.govt.nz) and it also needs to be served on Solid Energy (info@solidenergy.co.nz attn Ruth Bartlett).

Your submission should state whether you oppose all or part of the resource consents that have been applied for, and whether or not you wish to be heard at the hearing. Usually you include your name, address, email and phone number.

The proposal is adjacent to the planned Happy Valley mine, covers 243ha, and involves about five million tonnes of coal. This is about the same size as the proposed Escarpment Mine on the Denniston Plateau to the south.

If you need more info you can download various documents at the West Coast Regional Council site http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/mtwilliam/application.html

All the best,
Lynley Hargreaves

The West Coast ENT draft submission is here [PDF file].

Escarpment Opencast Coal Mine Proposal, Denniston Plateau, July 2011 update

Please download the July 2011 update about the escarpment opencast coal mine proposal on the Denniston Plateau on the West Coast, and the campaign to stop it: EMP Update 2 _13 July_

It is from the West Coast Environment Network, who can be contacted by e-mailing wcent@riseup.net