September 26, 2008

Jail Call for Farmers Who Pollute


Polluting farmers should be jailed, says Environment Minister Trevor Mallard.

He told the Water and Wastes Association conference in Christchurch this week that he supported tougher sentences and even jail for serious water polluters.

Exporters who continued to pollute or mismanage water and broke the rules were undermining their own products and the "valuable New Zealand brand".

"Regional councils in particular need to be a lot tougher as far as the standards are concerned, and more importantly the enforcement of the standards," Mallard said.

"Far too often these days, farmers - not always farmers - treat fines under the Resource Management Act as a cost of the business. We should prosecute individuals rather than companies - change the focus from a fine-based system to the possibility of imprisonment."

Certain breaches of the Resource Management Act 1991, including discharging contaminants into water without a consent, can already be punished with a maximum two-year prison sentence or a fine of up to $200,000.

Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson described Mallard's comments as representing a "very extreme view".

"I would love to understand where the minister's data is coming from," he said. "The big problem with this issue is, where is the baseline?

"There are people in regional councils who say water quality is hugely improved to what it was 40 years ago, and we continually get told it is not.

"We need some absolute clarity about it, and it's time for extreme views to be put to bed and real scientific and analytical work done to find out exactly what is happening."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said Mallard's rhetoric was all very well but the Government was doing little more than hand- wringing over the polluted state of lowland rivers.

At the conference, Mallard also took a swipe at Environment Canterbury (ECan) for over-allocating groundwater.

"We've got to be smarter about allocation. Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource and we need guarantees that it is being allocated to provide the highest value," he said.

"We are in an area with the most significant problems. Environment Canterbury is now facing real problems with over- allocated groundwater resources.

"I don't want to get into a finger-pointing exercise, but if they (ECan) had done their planning before they had done their allocation they might not be in the situation that they are."

ECan was working through a variation to its proposed national resources regional plan, he said.

"My officials are actively discussing the issue with Environment Canterbury officials. There haven't been any decisions made, but any approach we will take will give increased certainty both to the environment and to water users," Mallard said.

ECan chief executive Bryan Jenkins disagreed with Mallard and said the Resource Management Act had inadequacies that he had raised with Mallard.

Groundwater was fully allocated in the region.

ECan had not caused any over-allocation, which was due to Environment Court decisions overriding ECan recommendations for declining consents, Jenkins said.

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