Mining on Schedule 4 Land submissions

If you’re not in New Zealand, or if you’ve been living with your head buried in a sandbox for the last few months, you might not be aware that the NZ government’s been considering opening up sections of Schedule 4 land so they can be considered for mining applications. Schedule 4 is a section of the Crown Minerals Act which defines specific areas of New Zealand that can never be considered for mining due to very special conservation values. (In other words, it’s a sign saying “don’t even bother applying”.) It was designed as a compromise to clearly clarify where mining companies could and couldn’t apply to mine conservation land.

Recent proposals by the current government to open up parts of schedule 4 land is is largely with mining interests in mind, and it probably has something to do with the spike in certain mineral values, such as Gold, in the last few years. It seems likely that such mining will actually go ahead sooner or later if certain targeted land is removed from Schedule 4. A variety of conservation, recreation and political groups (notably Forest and Bird, and Federated Mountain Clubs — the latter of which represents most tramping and outdoor clubs in New Zealand) have come out very strongly against the proposal, centred around a campaign titled 2precious2mine.

A Forest & Bird bus stop advertisement, corner
of Bowen Street and The Terrace (Wellington).

The Ministry of Economic Development is driving the push to open up parts of schedule 4, and (eventually) released a discussion paper after months of unclear speculation about exactly what was being considered. Public submissions on the document close at 5pm on Tuesday 4th May Wednesday 26th May (Update 13-5-2010: It’s been extended). Despite my feelings that a submission from myself would not make a real difference, I figured I’d feel much worse if I did nothing. At the very least, I suppose I can contribute to the count of people who cared enough about it add to the flood, and collectively that might help to demonstrate something. I visited the Submissions Page earlier this evening and made an online submission, which I’ve included the text of below.

If you feel strongly about Schedule 4 (even if you disagree with me), please go and make your own submission, even if it’s just a short one. It’s not too difficult, and don’t feel compelled to stick to the structure that the Ministry of Economic Development is trying to encourage if it doesn’t fit what you want to say.

I structured my submission to the Ministry’s web form, but didn’t bother to answer a few of the questions (such as the one asking what sort of stock-take information it’d be useful for the government to collect on behalf of mining companies). I’ve thrown this response together more or less on a whim, and it may not be the same as it might have been if I’d sat on it for a few days. It wasn’t the sort of thing I wanted hanging around in my head, though.

Q1 On the areas proposed for removal from Schedule 4: Section 7 of the discussion paper sets out the areas proposed for removal from Schedule 4. Do you think these areas should be removed from Schedule 4 so that applications for exploration and mining activity can be considered on a case-by-case basis? Yes or No? And why? (Your response may be in relation to any one or more of the areas discussed. Please clearly identify the area(s) to which your response relates.)

My response: Doubtless there will be many submissions that cover the specific conservation values of the specific areas being proposed for removal. I’m not well qualified to comment on specific conservation values, and could only repeat what’s already likely to be said.

What concerns me is that areas should be able to be removed from Schedule 4 at all. Schedule 4 was designed to rule out mineral exploration applications in certain places specifically because those places were deemed important to conservation values. Land should not be allowed to be removed without extraordinary cause and without very credible arguments as to why the original decision to include them in Schedule 4 is no longer relevant.

The question of mining potential of land in schedule 4 should not be a consideration, unless mining operators can prove they will have zero significant impact on the values for which an area was included, and any additional values that have become relevant or known since it was included.

Q2 On the areas proposed for addition to Schedule 4: Section 8 of the discussion paper sets out the areas proposed for addition to Schedule 4. Do you agree with the proposal to add these areas to Schedule 4? Yes or No? And why? (Your response may be in relation to any one or more of the areas discussed. Please clearly identify the area(s) to which your response relates.)

My response: I’m sure the proposed areas can be considered on their merits using the same standards that have been used previously, and I think this is what should happen.

My only comment here is that new additions should not be considered an exchange for areas being removed. Areas should be added on their merits, and only removed in extraordinary cases if their respective conservation values change such that those merits are no longer relevant.

Q3 On the assessment of areas: The assessment of areas covered by Schedule 4 and those proposed for addition is outlined in sections 7 and 8 of this document and Appendices 1 and 2.

(a) What are your views on the assessment of the various values (conservation, cultural, tourism and recreation, mineral, other) of the land areas discussed?

My response: I’m concerned about the numerical values being considered with respect to the value of minerals.

The discussion document makes frequent mention of possible mineral volumes, but habitually states monetary values either “at today’s prices” (sections 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3) or similar (section 2.2). Despite pointing out that several years will pass before significant amounts of minerals can be extracted, the document does not make clear, or even appear to acknowledge, that mineral prices fluctuate by large amounts on the international market over long periods of time, and that “today’s prices” happen to be at an all time high that will probably not persist. The 2010 price for gold is roughly 4 times the value of gold between 1998 and 2002, and about 3 times the value of gold through most of the 1980s and until the late 1990s.

Presumably the recent spike in mineral values is why there’s a sudden interest in accessing what minerals might be inaccessible due to schedule 4, but I think great care and consideration needs to be taken to consider if the relevant minerals will retain this value, or anything remotely near it, during the amount of time it will take to extract and sell them.

Q5 On a new contestable conservation fund: Section 9 describes a proposed contestable conservation fund the Government proposes to establish, which would be made up of a percentage of the money the Crown receives from minerals (except petroleum) from public conservation areas.

(a) A broad objective, to enhance conservation outcomes for New Zealand, is proposed for the fund. Do you agree with the proposed objective?

My response: Not in principle. Having such a fund for conservation is better than not having such a fund, however:

The disturbing and contradicting thing I see about this fund is that it’s an acknowledgement that conservation values *are* being compromised by mining, and these conservation values are the ones currently protected by schedule 4 for specific reasons. If the funding of conservation efforts elsewhere are worth the loss of conservation values protected by schedule 4, then surely those efforts should already be being treated with very high regard already, and be getting sufficient funding from other sources.

The assertion in the discussion document that such a fund will not impact on money that DOC receives for its conservation work seems confusing. DOC will receive money based on what it’s applied for according to what it believes is necessary, and these necessities will be adjusted or re-prioritised accordingly (possibly resulting on less money being allocated) if another organisation or voluntary efforts are already using the fund to carry out work that DOC would otherwise be doing. Ultimately it’s completely possible that DOC will get less money for conservation work, and the combined amount of money for conservation work (including the contestable fund) will be similar.

(b) What do you think the fund should be used for? What should its priorities be?

My response: Fostering New Zealanders’ understanding of conservation of remote areas beyond scenic beauty in computer desktop wallpapers.

Encouraging and getting New Zealanders outdoors into some of New Zealand’s remote places to experience conservation values, especially from demographics and communities of people who traditionally don’t see them, and to build systems that ensure people remain involved and encourage others in their communities. eg. Recent immigrants with English as a second language who might be interested in visiting the outdoors but not know how to get started, people who are generally restricted to cities due to travel costs, and so on.

ie. Give people an opportunity to appreciate and understand what’s out there, and to be able to enjoy it.

(c) An independent panel appointed by the Minister of Energy and Resources and the Minister of Conservation is proposed to run the fund. Do you think this is a good idea?

It would depend on how open and objective the appointment is, how governed it is by process and qualifications rather than whims, opinions and friends of a Minister, how likely it is that the Ministers would follow that process, and the likeliness that meaningful consequences for Ministers would be imposed if and when this didn’t happen.

(d) It is proposed that half of royalties from public conservation areas are contributed to the fund, with a minimum of $2 million per year for the first four years, and a maximum of $10 million per year. Do you think the amounts proposed for the fund are appropriate?

No. Why should it be restricted to $10 million if it were to go higher? If mining companies are paying that many royalties for extracting minerals, the conservation estate which ultimately pays for it should, in some form, get an even cut.

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