The new Labour government has made no surprise of its commitment to both climate change and the improvement of water quality in New Zealand.
The Minister for the Environment, the Honourable David Parker has stressed the importance of economic growth within environmental limits. In a recent address he emphasised the need to shift the economy to a sustainable model. He expressed that “growth cannot continue at the expense of the environment” and identified climate change; water quality; and urban development as his top three priorities.
Given this commitment, the farming sector (along with other primary industries) can expect to be the subject of more stringent controls in the near future. Councils and interest groups are also more likely to take action against those perceived to be causing environmental harm
While we await the specific changes at a national level (new national standards, the Zero Carbon Bill amongst other measures likely to be introduced), this is a good time to remember that even if you are operating within the terms of your resource consent, you can still be the subject of enforcement action
Section 17 of the Resource Management Act 1991 creates a general duty for every person to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effect on the environment arising from an activity – irrespective of whether or not that activity has been undertaken in accordance with a rule in a plan, a resource consent, a designation or existing use rights. For example, in Uruamo v Carter Holt Harvey Ltd A043/96 (PT) an interim enforcement order was made in reliance on a possible breach of the s 17 duty, even though consent had been obtained for the activity in question.
As such, if your activity is likely to be noxious, dangerous, offensive, or objectionable to such an extent that it has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the environment, you can be the subject of an enforcement order or abatement notice. That might require you to stop the activity altogether or do something that is necessary to avoid or remedy or mitigate any adverse effect on the environment. There significant financial penalties for failure to comply.
Planning documents are often playing “catch up” with the growing body of scientific evidence being gathered about the state of our environment. Section 17 therefore allows a consent authority or the Environment Court to impose environmentally protective conditions where it considers – on compelling grounds – that the consent or relevant planning document does not provide a good enough measure, and environment harm is occurring.
Enforcement action is usually the last step, but with recent findings about the adverse effects of activities on water quality, section 17 may well be used to prevent known environmental harm from otherwise lawful activities. The best form of defence against any enforcement action is to use best practice and keep good records of your activities should any question arise.
Contact our Resource Management Team today to discuss how we can assist you.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice. It is important that you seek legal advice that is specific to your circumstances.