Upton on Mapua

August 13th, 2008 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I have not followed the fiasco as closely as I should, but Simon Upton does the job in the Dom Post yesterday:

I’ve just read the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the ’s investigation into the Mapua contaminated site clean-up. It is a short report – just 49 pages of widely spaced text. But it is a bombshell. It would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive indictment of a central government agency.

Hmmn, I must find this report. A quick Google and here it is.

The ministry appears to have had no understanding of appropriate roles and responsibilities and no technical competence to perform the role it took upon itself.

Maybe the Environment Ministry was too busy purging its ranks of anyone who had a boyfriend who works for John Key?

The problem was not confined to environmental management. The commissioner, Jan Wright, has felt compelled to write to her colleague the auditor- general inviting him to investigate some of the contractual failings she uncovered. The list of shortcomings is breathtaking.

So is anyone being held responsible for these?

As a result, the plant almost certainly pumped toxins into the environment but because of flaws in the way monitoring of the project was set up, we will never know what or how much harm was caused, though the community was almost certainly exposed to dioxins.

Meanwhile, groundwater contamination exceeded thresholds for more than three years. According to the commissioner, the ministry took no effective action to address the discharges despite requests from all those charged with monitoring the process.

And this is not the nasty private sector, but the Government’s own Environment Ministry!

The ministry helped design a sophisticated set of accountabilities and monitoring processes which it promptly flouted, having turned itself into the principal operator. Not surprisingly, the local council had difficulties treating the ministry – which was funding the project and at the top of the statutory hierarchy – like any other resource applicant.

Indeed. One reason why policy and operations are often best in seperate agencies.

Ministers have every reason to be very angry with the way in which the project was handled. How can any of us have any confidence in the ministry’s ability to protect the environment when its own performance has been so woeful? The ministry’s new chief executive, Paul Reynolds – who is in no way responsible for this toxic legacy – should waste no time in completely reviewing the roles and accountabilities of those around him and see to it that he gets some technically literate people on board fast.

I thought the Ministry’s main job was to produce propoganda for the PM’s Office on how NZ is going to be the first carbon neutral nation on Earth. This is far more important than actually protecting the environment!

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18 Responses to “Upton on Mapua”

  1. toad (3,654 comments) says:

    Believe it or not, this is still on MfE’s website:

    The Ministry for the Environment is leading the clean-up of New Zealand’s most contaminated site – at Mapua near Nelson.

    Work is proceeding well on fixing up the former Fruitgrowers Chemical Company site. The project will restore the site to a clean landscape, with 40 per cent of the site set aside as public space.

    The Ministry for the Environment is managing the project, working in partnership with Tasman District Council (TDC) and contractors, and in liaison with the local community and local iwi.

    The clean-up is an important project for the Ministry for the Environment, the community and New Zealand as a whole. The project uses Kiwi ingenuity to solve a long-standing environmental problem.

    The project features the innovative New Zealand-made technology – the Mechano-Chemical Dehalogenation (MCD) plant, supplied and operated by Environmental Decontamination Ltd (EDL). The plant uses a unique ball mill technology to cleanse the contaminated soil to accepted criteria.

    The Mapua project is a prototype clean-up for New Zealand, leading the way in fixing contaminated sites throughout New Zealand. It is also a unique project in that the local community has been closely involved from the outset and has helped drive the project.

    The Ministry is liaising closely with the community, iwi and other affected parties to ensure the project runs smoothly. The Ministry, council and contractors have been listening to the interests of the community, and have reduced noise, vibrations and hours of operation on the site in response to community requests. Locals have been very supportive of the project.

    Another reminder to not believe the greenwash, and Party Vote Green!

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  2. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    On the bright side, we got Clare Curren language-meister as a new parliamentary candidate. So that’s got to be a win-win. hasn’t it?

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  3. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    This is pretty typical. The Blacksmith Institute’s annual report on “The World’s Worst Polluted Places” has generally revealed that former communist countries are the worst offenders, followed by governments full stop.


    Perhaps a suggestion can be submitted to them to investigate if Mapua should join their line-up in future reports?

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  4. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    This is pretty typical. The Blacksmith Institute’s annual report on “The World’s Worst Polluted Places” has generally revealed that former communist countries are the worst offenders, followed by governments full stop.

    (I have submitted this comment with a LINK but it has been swallowed up in moderation)

    Perhaps a suggestion can be submitted to them to investigate if Mapua should join their line-up in future reports?

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  5. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    And here are some excerpts from the recent Wall Street Journal Article, “Why Brazil Isn’t Ashamed to Exploit its Oil”, by Mary Anastasia O’Grady. (Google it yourself. I want my comment to appear NOW, not after being tied up in moderation because its got a “link” in it).

    “Petrobras CEO José Sergio Gabrielli was flush with bullish insights when he stopped by the Journal’s New York office last week to talk about the Brazilian oil company.

    One reason for Mr. Gabrielli’s optimism is last year’s discovery of the offshore Tupi field, which is said to contain between five billion and eight billion barrels of black gold. Another, equally important reason is that, according to Mr. Gabrielli, neither environmentalists nor Brazilian politicians have raised concerns about exploiting oil in the waters off the Brazilian coast.

    That’s quite a contrast with attitudes in the U.S., where offshore exploration and development has been all but shut down save in the Gulf of Mexico. One company official explains the difference by saying that Brazilians understand the importance of energy to their future, while Americans do not.

    I have another theory. And mine fits the pattern of resource development – or lack thereof – all over the Western Hemisphere. It comes down to this: Where government has the property right, restrictions on development tend to be low. But when the private sector is the owner, environmental concerns blossom……..

    ………..the Brazilian government has a 58% controlling stake in Petrobras’s voting shares and 32% of its total shares. This means that some of Petrobras profits go straight to the government’s bottom line, giving the politicians more money to spend on bribing their constituents.

    In the U.S., Congress doesn’t have nearly such a vested interest in a successful oil industry. What good are corporate profits if they go to shareholders, pensioners and employees? Congress has even been denied the windfall profits tax. For American politicians there is a much greater incentive to respond to the concentrated power of the special interest group known as the “greens.”

    There are plenty of other examples. In 1995, the British government sold its final remaining shares of British Petroleum, which had been largely privatized throughout the 1980s. In October 1996, a British member of the European Parliament, Socialist Richard Howitt, began harassing BP for alleged environmental and human-rights violations in Colombia. Had the company suddenly gone from being a model citizen to a murderous, contaminating corporation? Or did the Socialists lose their incentive to support the company and discover new reasons to attack it, since left-wing constituents were ideologically allied with the Colombian rebels who were blowing up BP pipelines?

    At least Petrobras is a well-run, publicly listed company that has to answer to shareholders. Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly, has a history as a notorious polluter yet is seemingly exempt from political pressure to clean up its act.

    Mining provides an even better window on this contradiction. Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba all boast aggressive, state-owned mining operations. Yet neither the nongovernmental enviro-movement nor the political class utters a peep to object.

    Wherever the private sector is proposing mineral exploration, the story is flipped on its head. In February, I visited a rural town in El Salvador, where Pacific Rim Mining Corp. is trying to reopen the El Dorado gold mine. The company spent a year building the designs for the mine, in a process that included more than 20 public meetings with the local community. It says that the final design exceeds international standards. The government of President Tony Saca acknowledges this by telling the company that there is no technical problem with the mine, only political ones.

    Those political problems come from the left-wing FMLN political party, and the NGOs that share the FMLN’s antiprivate-sector ideology. They have raised an environmental stink about the mine, though none of it has been substantiated. Even so, the Saca government has responded by sitting on Pacific Rim’s permits for four years, sending a signal to investors that El Salvador is not open for business.

    The local mayor told me that the community wants the project, which will directly create 600 new jobs and could produce as many as 3,000 indirect jobs. The real problem is that since the government isn’t the owner, El Dorado doesn’t inspire politicians in San Salvador the way Petrobras inspires Brasilia………”

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  6. Ross Miller (1,624 comments) says:

    This can’t be right; is not right; a Government department f—–g up big time. Tell me its not true. It must be a beat-up by the filthy Tory Press. After all, a central tenant of Labour and its lickspittle hangers-on is that Government ALWAYS knows and does best.

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  7. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    And THIS is from a review by Steven Milloy, of the book “Poisoned Profits”, by Phil Shabecoff.

    “……..precisely what one might expect from a biased journalist who depends on dubious and discredited sources to breathe life into alleged “problems” that have escaped scientific detection despite more than 40 years and tens of billions of dollars of research.

    When you think about it, Shabecoff’s hypothesis is really incredible. He suggests that, because we make or import more chemicals than ever before, emissions, exposures and risks to health are greater than ever before.

    “There is abundant evidence that the trillions of pounds of hazardous pollutants that have been poured into the environment are, in all likelihood, responsible for much of the sickness, suffering and, too often, death of America’s children,” he writes.

    And in the grand environmentalist tradition of hyperbolic imagery, his media release states, “The effect on children’s health is like a World Trade Center in slow motion.” But the facts don’t match up with Shabecoff’s hysterics.

    First, industrial emissions and the public’s exposure to them have declined over the past few decades. Air emissions declined 67 percent between 1993 and 2002, emissions of volatile organic compounds declined by 50 percent from 1980 to 2007, and overall industrial releases to the environment declined 59 percent between 1988 and 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Contrary to Shabecoff’s claim of deteriorating public health, life expectancy, the most objective standard for measuring health, is the highest it has ever been across all race, age and gender groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Overall cancer incidence and death rates are declining, and childhood cancer rates are stable, according to the National Institutes of Health. Most importantly, there is not a single study that credibly links typical or legal industrial emissions to the environment as a cause of any disease in anyone, including children.

    Shabecoff wrestles with this fact early in his book when he writes that “Often … the scientific evidence is cloudy.” But he quickly resolves his dilemma by suggesting a conspiracy among the chemical industry, politicians and government officials to ignore children’s health.

    What follows are 200-plus pages of innuendo and half-truths. An example of Shabecoff’s penchant for omitting key facts arises when he praises environmental groups……..”

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  8. wreck1080 (3,526 comments) says:

    If the government smog botherers can’t even manage simple environmental operations then how are we supposed to trust them with building a carbon credits trading system?

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  9. boomtownprat (281 comments) says:

    Why on earth, as previously stated should you consider ….”Party Vote Green”, when all the Green Party have done is prop up this sorry hypocritical government time and time again. No amount of rhetoric and self righteous retrospective disowning mitigates this. The only thing a green party vote guarantees is more of the same

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  10. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    My point in the above postings, is that the “Green” movement is infested with anti-free-enterprise, anti-free-market hypocrisy. One of the founders of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, walked away from it years ago because of this.

    The prosperity that results from free markets, free enterprise, and economic growth, is in fact the only way that any people in the world have attained improvements in overall health, and overall improvements in their environments. Every new “polluting” energy form actually replaced a worse old one. That process continues today WITHOUT any 10 year plans from politicians.

    “Complexity Theory and Environmental Management” by Michael Crichton, is a very good read on the subject.

    It is likely that every political interference in the economic growth process, actually results in the real solutions that develop in response to market pressures, being delayed, partly because of less investment capital being generated and partly because of less people and businesses being able to afford expensive new technology. If we were all as wealthy as Californians, we could have just as high a percentage of our population driving Toyota Priuses too. But Auckland slipped behind virtually every city in the USA in terms of air cleanliness years ago, because we’re a semi-busted-arse soft socialist country. The amount we “care” about the environment (especially compared to those fat capitalists in America) is actually irrelevant.

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  11. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    Everyone else seems to be able to insert links allright philbest…patience?

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  12. 3-coil (1,184 comments) says:

    toad (10:10am) – be honest: “FOR MORE OF THE SAME – VOTE FOR THE GREEN PARTY”

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  13. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    I suspect that this failure is not so much because this was a government agency but because it was a government agency with multiple objectives.
    The MfE should probably be restricted to administering the RMA – it does quite a good job of advising on best practice etc through its quality planning web site. And this is its core business. But such a business does not attract high quality scientists or technocrats or engineers or contract managers. Therefore it was the wrong organisation to be doing the job. We should probably have an Environmental Management Agency or similar which is science and engineering focused to do such work and to set environmental standards and carry out environmental surveys. The MfE study on dioxins in the environment was based on good science but the policy findings were driven by the politics and ideology of environmentalism. They were shattered to find we had the lowest levels of dioxins in the world – after the Antarctic – so cooked the presentation books to make it look as though we did have a problem.
    We should know by now that organisations soon develop a culture and that determines or limits the skill base and core competencies.
    The MfE should never have been asked to do the job.

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  14. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    # stephen (1162) Add karma Subtract karma +0 Says:
    August 13th, 2008 at 11:06 am

    “Everyone else seems to be able to insert links allright philbest…patience?”

    It is actually quite material just how close to the top of a thread one gets one’s argument in. And a couple of hours tied up in moderation is too long. Furthermore, the relevant excerpts from an article are often a much better idea than directing people to the whole article, only for them to give up reading it before they reach the really juicy bits……..

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  15. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    Well i’m baffled. Maybe DPF has blacklisted your sources :-P

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  16. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Sorry, another point, now that my first comment, with link, has finally appeared, is that it has appeared on the thread in the order as if it would have appeared if it had not been moderated at all. That means that people revisiting the thread after an earlier look, could miss it altogether.

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  17. Innocent bystander (163 comments) says:

    MfE does policy, it doesn’t do delivery and should never have gone anywhere near this. One good aspect of the likely change in government is that there will hopefully be a good clean out of this dysfunctional ministry.

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  18. PaulL (5,776 comments) says:

    Phil, but shorter summations might get read by more people. I sometimes read your first long, quoted comment. I rarely read the second. Once I start skipping comments made by you, you may as well not exist. I doubt I’m the only one. I’d suggest making much shorter summations, then go back to edit the post and put the link on the bottom. Not sure how that works out, but I suspect only the edit gets held up for moderation?

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