The Ministry for the Environment's recently released its Study into the Use of Prosecutions under the Resource Management Act 1991,which sets out the results of a survey of the use of prosecutions under the RMA in the last four years.

The study revealed that prosecutions are mainly related to dairy farms, with other more minor contributors including earthworks contractors, cleanfill and landfill operators, and unauthorised improvements to agricultural and residential properties.  
The main findings of the study were as follows:

  • The number of prosecutions per year is increasing, from 39 per year in the years 1991-2001, 45 per year in the years 2001-2005, 82 per year in the years 2005-2008, and finally 101 per year in the years 2008-2012. 
  • Within the 2008-2012 period, three councils stand out as having brought the highest number of prosecutions: Otago Regional Council, which undertook 17% of all prosecutions; Southland Regional Council, which undertook 12% of all prosecutions; and Waikato Regional Council, which undertook 11% of all prosecutions. 
  • Offences arising from the discharge of dairy effluent made up 48% of all prosecutions in the period 2008-2012.  Significant contributions to the number of prosecutions were also made by the following activities: improvements to farms (4%), improvements to residential properties (3.5%), earthworks (3.3%), and cleanfill and landfill operations (2.5%).
  • Fine quantities are increasing.  The mean fine amount has increased from around $19,500 in the period 2005-2008 to approximately $28,500 in the period 2008-2012.  The Study suggests that this is a result of the increase in the maximum penalties available under the RMA, which was increased on 1 October 2009 from $200,000 to $600,000 for companies and $300,000 for individuals, together with corresponding statements from the judiciary to the effect that the scale of fines should be increased to reflect the legislative changes.

Overall, the study confirmed that the number of RMA prosecutions, and the quantum of the fines imposed, are both increasing.  However, the study does not draw any conclusions about whether the increase in prosecutions is the result of an increase in offending or a greater emphasis on enforcement.