The farce of waste consents breaches

Radio NZ reports:

Hundreds of companies have dumped contaminants – like blood, fat, and toxic chemicals such as ammonia and sulphides – into sewers in breach of their waste consents over the past year, RNZ can reveal.

Some are bakeries, supermarkets and takeaway shops dumping the contents of their dirty grease traps. But some of New Zealand’s biggest manufacturers and brands are also discharging contaminants – many of them dangerous – and most have breached the conditions of their consents multiple times.

Data obtained from 68 city and district councils paints a grim picture of compliance, showing at least 270 companies have breached their conditions, while in several areas, compliance is rare or non-existent.

So what is the penalty for breaching these consents?

Despite hundreds of consent holders dumping contaminants into the sewers in the past year, not a single one has been prosecuted. Councils can’t stomach the cost of taking a prosecution under the Local Government Act or the Resource Management Act.

How many have been slapped with fines? None. A legal loophole means councils have no power to issue them, so are instead forced to take an “educative” approach with errant firms.

The upshot is hundreds of companies getting away with breaking the rules, and potentially damaging public infrastructure and polluting the environment. And RNZ can reveal successive governments have known about the issue for nearly two decades, but have done nothing to stop it.

So there is no penalty!

This is farcical. No wonder companies are always breaching the consents when there is no penalty for doing so.

“To be honest… it annoys us greatly,” Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) principal policy advisor Mike Reid says .

He’s explaining the loophole in the law that allows companies to get away with dumping their waste, knowing the council can’t fine them and they’re highly unlikely to face prosecution. Reid is frustrated that successive governments have failed to fix the error in the Local Government Act 2002 that prevents councils from enforcing their own bylaws with fines.

For the past 18 years, his organisation has written to every incoming local government urging an amendment to allow councils to issue fines to those that breach consents.

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby dispatched the latest letter just last month to Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Environment Minister David Parker and reminded them officials have been fobbing off concerns for 18 years.

“It is an issue that LGNZ has raised with multiple governments since 2002, but with no success,” the letter reads.

He signs off the missive: “We write to both of you because until councils are able to infringe breaches of, for example, waste bylaws, there will continue to be adverse effects on the quality of our freshwater.”

The Act was always supposed to give councils the power to issue fines of up to $200,000 for waste consent breaches.

“The ability to have an infringement fine was an essential way to being able to change behaviours without a lot of bureaucratic waste of time,” Reid says.

But after the Act passed and the were being written up, discovered a problem.

“What we had intended was that there would be one regulation that would be applied to every bylaw made under the Act… The way the legislation was written, it actually required regulation to be written for every bylaw a council wished to use. Given there are 78 councils… if a regulation was needed for every bylaw adopted…it would be totally, utterly impractical,” he says.

And repeated pleas to tidy up the Act so the rules could be carried out as intended have fallen on deaf ears.

You think a Government that claims to care about the environment would make fixing the Act a priority.

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