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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 [1] 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 [2], 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 [3], and Federated Mountain Clubs [4] — 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 [5].

IMG_6896_c [6]
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 [7] 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 [8] 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.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Mining on Schedule 4 Land submissions"

#1 Comment By Robb On 28 April, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

Kia ora Mike,
An independent panel appointed by Brownlee? Much of these statements we are asked to comment on seem phrased as if it is already a forgone conclusion the government will get its way. Nonetheless we need as many as possible to submit against this to, as you write, create a bit of a flood. My real gut feelings tell me that if this should be a simple whitewash, the government should be prepared for other forms of demonstration or monkey wrenching (Edward Abbey). The first real rule of “sustainability” is to destroy less. How National has gotten away with perpetuating myths such as “surgical mining” and “sustainable mining” is propoganda worthy of Joseph Goebbels himself.
Even a small area such as Parakawai in the Coromandel is a jewel that once gone can never be reclaimed or magically “replaced” with new conservation suddenly produced out of thin air.
But indeed, any tramper, or person who enjoys the outdoors, or even the thought of them being there should be against this, and at the very least submit against this madness. Thanks Mike.

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 30 April, 2010 @ 9:12 am

Hi Robb.

It’s nice that FMC and Forest & Bird are both taking this so seriously. Over the road from where I walked to work in the middle of town this morning, a bus stop has a big Forest & Bird ad saying that 1.2 million tourists don’t come to NZ to look at dump trucks, or something to that effect.

I guess I’m not too concerned about the structure of the feedback form. It’s asking questions quite closely about things mentioned in the document, and I’m reasonably sure the administrators just do this to help them organise the information they’re expecting to come back in thousands of submissions, so that people who have something to say on specific topics will say it in places that are easy to find and group together. It’s not necessary to use the form to submit, though. The document on the other hand is something I really don’t like.

#3 Comment By Maple Kiwi On 1 May, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

The period for submitting responses on this has been extended by three weeks – so if you didn’t get around to it and want to have your say you can still do so!

#4 Comment By Simon Hathaway On 2 May, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

Hi Mike,

I used to live near the Peak District national park/ Derbyshire peak district in the UK, if anyone thinks mining in a national park is a good idea they should look at what the Blue Circle cement company did to Castleton, a right old mess and a chimney visible for miles.
On another subject my friends and I had a great valley trip to Tutawai hut last weekend, the weather on Saturday was glorious, we did however here strange rumbling noises, I put it down to boulders in the river, friends thought it may be aircraft, any ideas to what it could be?

#5 Comment By Mike McGavin On 5 May, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

Hello, thanks Michelle and Simon for the additional notes.

Great to hear about your trip to Tutawai, Simon. It’s a hut I’ve yet to visit (though I made it to the Tauherenikau a few weeks ago). Especially if the river was flooded I’d presume it could be boulders moving, and perhaps if it wasn’t flooded though that’s probably less likely, at least based on my limited experience with such things. They certainly move around, and it’s the kind of sound they can make when they do. Back at new year’s we were hearing thunderous rolling around the flooded Mokihinui all night. I thought it was thunder for a while until I realised after a while that the apparent direction or distance was never changing, and it wasn’t going away.

#6 Comment By Robert Guyton On 12 July, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

Hi Mike
My first visit to your excellent blog. I’m especially pleased to see this post by you on the Schedule 4 issue, something I too have covered. I’m pleased you did make a submission, as I did. I’ve a belief in the value of individual actions, as they can have unforseen positive consequences, in my view. I marched in Invercargill, carrying a placard that read, “Leave it in the ground”, topped off with a huge black papier mache lump of coal.
You’re more intimately involved with the national parks than I am presently, though I’ve tramped a few of them in my time, and you’ll be feeling the threat from the National Government more keenly than I. I expect a complete backdown from the Government with regard national parks, but for them to go gangbusters on ‘borderlands’ of lesser importance. The Mataura lignite open cast mine will be the one nearest me and I’ll be doing what I can about that, as well as keeping an eye on the Orepuki/Longwoods gold works which are livening up and looking ready to be gnawed away-at by the every keen miners.
Fingers crossed for the Mokihinui and for Paparoa for that matter.

#7 Comment By Mike McGavin On 13 July, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

Thanks Robert! Yes, I felt much better in actually making my own submission rather than just signing someone else’s pre-written card. The latter’s better than nothing, but I think it says a lot more when people sit down and say what they think. I do tend to think there’s little point in just signing petitions or sending in a postcard with my name on and someone else’s opinion. (Well, usually I don’t sign petitions on principle because I often see them being used to push positions that people signing might not have agreed to.)

I think some of what’s freaking me out about these Schedule 4 happenings isn’t just the idea of reversing Schedule 4 status. It’s that the bulk of places in the lower North Island that I visit for tramping and very much enjoy aren’t protected by Schedule 4 at all. Someone could quite easily decide to apply for damming parts of the Tararuas, north of Wellington, and although there would be a lot of opposition, they’d still have a shot at it because many of the places that are wonderful to visit are still not considered important or unique enough to be “New Zealand’s greatest treasures”. This happened in the earlier parts of the 20th Century (not too surprising) but there was still investigation going on as recently as the 1990s. Somewhere like the Ruahines further north, which has a similar status and is also a wonderful place, but less visited, could face similar kinds of applications on a whim… and might be more likely to succeed just through having less forceful opposition.

I dunno. Lignite and coal mines feel like catering to the industrial age. Gold and gold mines just seem illogical to me, which sadly is a distinctly different thing from unprofitable. The metal has practical uses here and there, but by far the biggest reason it’s considered so valuable, and has always been valuable, is that people think a rare shiny metal makes them look rich or feel beautiful, and they’ll pay for it! It’s the appetite for self-vanity of anonymous people overseas that’s somehow driving us to dig up and degrade our back yard. Vanity drives a lot of screwed up thinking in the world. The mind boggles.

#8 Comment By Robert Guyton On 18 July, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

Mike. Your assessment of mining, minerals, vanity and the present industrial age is spot on.
I’m making it my business to fight the proposed-and-well-advanced lignite mine at Mataura, not because pristine countryside will be scooped away (I have ongoing issues with farming practices) but because it represents the same hunger/stupidity you refer to with your ‘industrial age’ reference.
We’re going to have fun doing it though. We are running with the idea of ‘lignitemare’ and have plans for theatre, constructions, protests and high exposure. Already we are introducing the word/phrase to the public.
See here.