Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty's Member's Bill, the "Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill" passed its first reading this week, supported by all parties except for National and ACT. The Bill seeks to amend section 107 of the RMA which has the potential to impact on renewal of existing or future applications for discharge and coastal permits. A copy of the Bill can be viewed here.
Section 107 of the RMA currently restricts the ability of consent authorities to grant a discharge permit or a coastal permit that would result in contaminants entering water if, after reasonable mixing, it would result in certain adverse effects. However section 107(2) allows such permits to be granted in certain circumstances, with one of these being where the consent authority is satisfied that "exceptional circumstances" justify the granting of the permit.
Delahunty's Bill states that the lack of detail on when "exceptional circumstances" apply has resulted in section 107 being used to allow for "virtually unlimited pollution of waterways". The Bill seeks to limit the time period for a consent granted under "exceptional circumstances" in s107(2) to a maximum of five years. Recent examples of where s107(2) has been used include permits associated with Transmission Gully, and for the continued operation of the Tasman Mill in Kawerau and Contact Energy's Wairakei and Poihipi geothermal power stations. In each of these cases, there were a number of factors which cumulatively led to a finding of "exceptional circumstances".
In the Explanatory Note, the Bill cites "pollution of the Tarawera River since 1995", which is clearly aimed at the Tasman Mill consents, as "the most extreme example" of the "regular" discharges being allowed under the current law. Interestingly, the Court in that case noted that section 107 was enacted specifically with the Tasman Mill and the pulp and paper industry in mind.
The Bill seems premature given the RMA Phase 2 amendments are likely to kick off soon. The Bill passed its first reading this week and will now go to the Select Committee stage. Members of the public will be given the opportunity to make submissions. We will let you know when there is an opportunity to submit.