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Friday
Jan182013

Ministry for the Environment Intransigence 

At last, some evidence that the 'fightback' is going on behind the scenes.

The following is the letter sent to the Minister by the Mayor on 21 December that sets out the disconnect between the National Environment Standards, and Government policy that sets the acceptable standard of increased risk at 1ppm (or 1:100,000) The disparity with the drinking water standard is plain to all to see - allowing for seven times the daily dose in Hamilton City water supply than that obtainable under the remediation target set by MfE officials, and which forms the basis of their rejection of TCDC's submission to the Moanataiari Governance Group.

This is bureaucracy at its worst, and it is to be hoped that Adams/Ryall/Key can bring some common sense back to the table.

Hon Amy Adams                                                             

Dear Minister

Moanataiari

On 11 December 2012, the Ministry for the Environment notified us of its termination of the Deed of Funding saying that "there is no ongoing requirement for the [Moanataiari] Governance Group or the Steering Committee to exist".

In its letter of notification, and presumably as part of its justification for ending the project, the Ministry notes that a "detailed remedial action plan" was not available at the 5 December Governance Group meeting.  It has apparently escaped the attention of Ministry Officials that remedial action planning was to be the very next phase in the project.    I would have expected Ministry Officials to have had a more sound understanding of the project, its detail and work programme, before summarily shutting it down.  Ironically, because the project has ended, such plans will now never come forth.

Particularly given the assurances of Government support that were offered by both you and our local MP for the Moanataiari community, this decision by the Ministry is extremely disappointing.

For your further information, I have attached a copy of our reply to Mr Mendonca of the Ministry for the Environment as well our reply to Mr Buckley of the Waikato Regional Council, who copied to you his letter to us of 12 December 2012.

But that outcome is not the main purpose of my writing to you at this time.

At our meeting of 19 December 2012, the Thames-Council District Council resolved that I write to you, Minster Ryall and the Prime Minister seeking an audience with you to discuss our concerns over the National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (NES).

My council's experience with the Moanataiari project has raised for us some serious concerns over the NES.  In summary, hoping that I can discuss these with you in more detail in the new year, these concerns include the following.

Policy disconnect:  There is a significant disconnect between Government policy and the NES.  New Zealand Government policy sets the acceptable level of increased risk at 1-in-100,000.  But the NES soil contaminant standard for arsenic does not correlate with this government policy.

Disparity with drinking water standard:  There is an as yet unreconciled but vast disparity between the drinking water and soil standards for arsenic, the impact of which manifests in our very region.  Assuming a 2L-per-day consumption, naturally occurring arsenic in the Hamilton City water supply delivers more than seven times the daily dose of arsenic to Hamilton adults than is obtainable from the remediation target insisted upon by Ministry for the Environment Officials for Moanataiari.  But the situation is more concerning than this for children; for children, the arsenic dose from just 1L-per-day of Hamilton water is around twenty times that which is obtainable from the remediation target at Moanataiari.  It appears to us that, with regard to arsenic, the threshold for soil is around 33 times more onerous than it is for water.  This circumstance will cause avoidable stress and cost to communities up and down the country, beyond Moanataiari, as Ministry for the Environment Officials continue to hold their line with impractical zeal.  We believe that that discrepancy must be urgently addressed by the Ministries.

Lack of international peer review:  It is not correct that the NES has been internationally peer reviewed, as is commonly understood to be the case.  Toxicological draft reports that underpin only one of two NES foundation documents were peer reviewed by two leading international toxicologists.  However, the same policy robustness was not extended to the other key document.  This inconsistency is not openly discussed and has not been satisfactorily explained.

Lack of coordination between teams:  During its development, there were two teams respectively working on the technical and policy aspects of the NES.  There is concern that there was insufficient coordination between teams that, for example, may have led to the policy disconnect described above.  Enquires to the Ministry for the Environment confirm that there exists no minutes or similar documentation that would document adequate coordination between the teams.  

The NES is based on science that should have been better:  I personally attended a meeting on 15 December 2011 that included Ministry for the Environment Officials and their technical advisor.  When challenged in the meeting over the NES assumption of 100% bioavailability, the response was "we know it's wrong, but we don't have better science".  It is not that the Ministry for the Environment did not have available to it better science.  Rather, in the development of the NES, it appears that the Ministry chose not to spend time and money sourcing the better science it needed.  As early as May 2009, through a letter from leading international toxicologists, the Ministry was advised that better science was needed in relation to oral bioavailability.  Better science did indeed exist, and it was needed; this is evident by the unfortunate fact that this Moanataiari project ended up having to commission and pay for it.  But I wonder whether the sponsoring Minister at the time of the NES' development was told "we know it's wrong, but we don't have better science".

Cost benefit:  Ministry for the Environment Officials made quite an effort to discredit the cost benefit analysis that was presented to the 5 December Moanataiari Governance Group meeting; yet they had the temerity to not present to the meeting any alternative analysis.  This is despite the fact that Cabinet papers refer to (but do not include) a detailed cost benefit analysis prepared by independent consultants at the time of the NES' development.  Our reading of the advice given to Cabinet is that the nationwide and potential site-specific costs and impacts were estimated to be less than $1 million.  This would be at odds with one scenario for Moanataiari alone which put the cost between $3 million and $10 million.  We have asked Officials for comment on our reading of the advice given to Cabinet.

National priority list of contaminated sites:  Our request of October 2012 to the Ministry for the Environment for the national priority list of contaminated sites was denied in order to protect free and frank expressions of opinions between Officials and Ministers.  What we have requested is simply a list.  We do not imagine that such a list would hold a record of free and frank discussions between you.  And even if it is, we would gladly receive an appropriately blacked-out copy.  In any case we believe that the information release is in the public interest and we agree with MP Catherine Delahunty's reported statement of 24 May 2011 that "The public has an absolute right to know, in straight-forward language, where these sites are and how polluted they are."  We have referred the Ministry's decision to withhold the list to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Minister, as you can see, my council has deeply held concerns over the NES and its implementation and administration by the Ministry for the Environment.  I have been asked to directly approach you seeking an opportunity to discuss these with you, Minister Ryall and the Prime Minister. 

Please know that we have put a lot of effort into keeping our issues out of the spot light of the media.  For example, pressure has been put on me to front these concerns on television.  But Council's preferred approach is for me to personally have this discussion with all of you, either together or separately, in the first instance.  Hence, my letter to you setting out our request for direct discussion.

Please let me know if you would be agreeable to facilitating such a discussion.

Yours faithfully

Glenn Leach                                                                                                                                        District Mayor

CC:      Hon Tony Ryall                                                                                                                                              Minister of Health

           Rt Hon John Key                                                                                                                                            Prime Minister


 

 

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