This paper is a report on the implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework in New Zealand. The paper argues that New Zealand has been able to adopt and adapt the EIA framework to suit its need. The discussion introduces the basic principles of EIA before applying them to the political will, legislative arrangements and oil/gas industries of New Zealand. It concludes that the country has developed a bespoke but effective approach to implementing EIA.
Keywords: Environmental Impact Assessment, New Zealand, Oil and Gas Industry
Table of Contents
The use of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is standard practice in most developed nations
(Boshier, 1998). EIA helps in ‘identifying, predicting, evaluating and
mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development
proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made’ (Association
for Impact Assessment in cooperation with Institute of Environmental
Assessment, 1999, p. 3). It is the instrument through which
policy makers can accurately predict and project the impact of any given
activity on the environment (Clark & Canter, 1997). EIA assesses
impacts in both social and economic contexts. For example it can examine the impact of
activities on women in development as well as biodiversity (Fookes, 2000). In effect EIA is an
instrument of sustainable development, acknowledging the need to make use of
the earth’s resources while at the same time managing the risk of
over-exploitation (Clark & Canter, 1997). EIA is often a
dealmaker or breaker for projects and is therefore often included in bidding
documents and feasibility studies particularly where the state is involved in
either sanctioning or funding the affected projects (Glasson,
Therivel, & Chadwick, 2005).
This paper aims to highlight the ways in which EIA can be used to promote sustainable development. It will first determine the broad principles that underpin EIA. The paper will then describe the context of New Zealand, critically assessing the ways in which EIA has been implemented. Finally the paper will determine the extent to which the country has been successful in its implementation of EIA and what lessons can be learnt in terms of developing localized EIA protocols for other nations.
New Zealand has embraced EIA as a social, economic and political tool
(Sadler B. , 2001). In doing so the
country has become a model of best practice. Therefore this paper is premised
on the thesis that New Zealand has been largely successful in the following
ways: understanding the practices and impetus of EIA; using the relevant
protocols to design policy initiatives within the country: making use of EIA as
a comprehensive assessment tool for past, current and future projects; and
adapting the principles of EIA to the local context (Taylor & Smith, 1997). This paper is
limited by the fact that it focuses on a single country. However, its findings
may be relevant to other nations that seek to achieve sustainable development.
One of the distinguishing features of EIAs is the fact that they do not depend on a pre-set outcomes or minimum standards
(Morgan, 1998). Rather EIAs require
that policy and decision makers create an accountability trail for the
projected effects of any proposed schemes (Noble, 2006). Inevitably project
sponsors must justify them in light of the objective projections of the impact
they have on the environment (Smith, 1993). This may mean
engaging in an extensive period of consultation and welcoming public comment (Wells &
EIA is both a technical and practical tool that engages stakeholders in various
forums. However there is a tendency for
project sponsors to focus on compliance and problem-avoidance (Wood, 1995). This is not the
spirit of EIAs which must inherently open the way to finding solutions for the
risks to the environment which have been identified.
The standard EIA process incorporates screening; scoping; evaluation of alternatives; impact analysis; mitigation; evaluation of significance; reporting; review; decision-making; and follow-up
Goldsmith, Conover, Sadler, & Brown, 1999, p. 4). EIA distinguishes between the Polluter and Precautionary. The polluter consists of the group of stakeholders
who propose to engage in an activity that might impact on the environment. The
precautionary consists of stakeholders who wish to prevent, minimize or
mitigate such impacts (RMIT
University & UNU Online Learning, 2014, p. 4). Despite localized variations EIA normally
covers industrial production; genetic modification; fuzzy logic operations; and
follow-up protocols (Jiang & Kaye, 2000). Typically EIA will involve undertaking a Product Environmental Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
which assesses the impact of various production processes including equipment,
raw materials, processing, usage, ancillary equipment and disposal (RMIT
University & UNU Online Learning, 2014, p. 5). The introduction of
genetically modified products on various pilot schemes has necessitated a
review of EIA in order to reflect this new production process (Kenny, et
Examples of protocols used include INOVA and GMP-RAM. Often the outcomes of
these assessments are used to address public concerns about both environmental
and public health impacts (Boshier, 1998). It is acknowledged
that many impacts are qualitative rather than quantitative. Examples include
social acceptance, quality of life and aesthetic landscaping (Morgan, 1998). Therefore EIA uses Fuzzy Logic as a means of incorporating
these elements into the assessment. Community sentiments and the views of
experts in the field are often used to approximate the impact of specific
activities (Wells &
One of the critical aspects of EIA is to have a follow-up process. This phase is designed to assess whether the projections and predictions have come to pass as well as the extent to which they are valid
(Glasson, Therivel, &
The comparative analysis between expectations and empirical evidence ensures
that EIAs remain relevant to the community and are constantly updated to
reflect new challenges. Normally an
audit process is designed to cover both Scientific
and Management aspects. The
scientific element considers the objective accuracy of the predictions as well
as giving the experts an opportunity to explain any errors. The management
aspects are then used to evaluate any mitigation steps that have been taken in
light of the impacts that were presented in the original EIA (Noble, 2006). The actual
implementation of EIA allows the stakeholders to either opt for a full null
hypothesis (considered to be the more rigorous assessment) or to use a basic
comparative analysis (Sadler B. , 1996). It is important to
note that the EIA follow-up may also be used to decide whether to reject or
modify the project. Alternatively the precautionary may require strict liability insurance that covers
the eventualities (Anardarko NZ Taranaki Company,
(1996) has identified five
guideposts for assessing the status and effectives of EIA: These include practices,
learning, relativity, pragmatism and accomplishments (p. 3). The nature of EIAs means that they have been
associated with costs which critics use to discourage their use. For example
the extensive consultation with the public means that lay people who are not
fully conversant with the technical issues of environmental management are
given an opportunity to potentially create costly delays for essential projects (Clark &
On the other hand the supporters of EIAs might argue that these delays are a
necessary evil particularly if the consultation enables the public to get more
engaged in the process of managing and protecting the environment (Sadler B. , 1996). Others might argue
that EIAs should be treated in the same way that other aspects of feasibility
studies (acceptability, viability and appropriateness) are handled. Thus they
become part and parcel of the project justification which will ultimately
ensure long term success and the support of the community (Wells & Fookes, 1988). Nevertheless EIAs
have been criticized for lacking detail and depth, particularly when compared
to traditional Environmental Impact
Statements (EIS). Clark and Canter (1997, pp.
go as far as noting that EIAs have become a popular shortcut and replacement
for EISs. However, it is worth noting that EIAs actually save time and money by
allowing decision-makers to get an overview of the potential environmental
issues before deciding whether to go for a full EIS process (Rychlak & Case, 2010, pp.
It has been suggested that the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (UNCED) of 1992 was the first time that the international community really spoke about environment al issues. Having attracted 10,000 participants from 176 different countries, UNCED came up with 5 resolutions, two of which were binding
(Puhlmann, 2006, p. 2). However there are
examples of nations that started much earlier on the objective of achieving “an environmentally sustainable global
economy” (Puhlmann, 2006, p. 3). The success or
otherwise of implementing EIA can be illustrated by making reference to New
Zealand, a Dualist Nation that requires domestic ratification of
international treaties by primary legislation before they become operational.
This is a country that has implemented the broad principles of EIA. It started
with the political will when then translated into actual legislation before application
in particular industries. The oil and gas industry is used as an example here.
However there are many other sectors that are subject to EIA directly or
indirectly (Morgan R. K., 1995). The Environment
Act of 1986 required that a “full and
balanced account is taken of all values” (Hill, 1988,
In fact the control of gorse (a particularly challenging weed) in New Zealand
is a prime example of local authorities taking action to achieve this
objective. The scope of such a requirement meant that New Zealand had an
onerous task to give its legislative agenda practical meaning by application
whether on a national or on a local level.
New Zealand has adopted the basic principles of EIA under its comprehensive Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). The adoption and adaptation processes started with the publication of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures (EPEP) in 1974. It is clear from the outset that New Zealand was not only interested in identifying the potential environmental impacts of any given procedures but went as far as creating proposals for mitigating risks and enhancing the status of the environment
(Fookes, 2000). Consequently not
only would negative impacts be minimized if the report was used to modify
processes but there would also be avenues for ensuring that the environment was
much better off after the processes had been undertaken. Polluters may have had
a valid complaint against the stringent conditions of EPEP which often exceed
those of Commonwealth countries like India (Sadler B. , 2001). In any case these
first procedures amounted nothing more tha cabinet minutes and critically did
not have legal force. However, they
laid the foundation for regulating the conduct of government agencies in as far
as they would engage in processes that are akin to EIA as we know it today.
In the pre-1991 era New Zealand had what amounted to “a large body of resource-related statutes with no uniform structure”
(Puhlmann, 2006, p. 16). The Environmental Enhancement and Protection
Procedures of 1970 sought to create a set of minimum standards that would be
used to incorporate environmental issues into development programs. This was a
procedural document that did not have the full weight of a comprehensive act of
parliament (Wheen, 2002). This was then
followed by the Environment Act of 1986
which established some of the institutions that would be responsible for
monitoring compliance including the Ministry of the Environment (MfE) as well
as a parliamentary commissioner (PCE). The Conservation
Act 1987 was an important milestone in as far as it sought to protect the
biodiversity of New Zealand. That act is also notable for the establishment of
the Department of Conservation (DoC)
with a special focus on the protection of game and fisheries (Wheen, 2002).
The country then progressed on the EIA front with the passage of the Resource Management Act (RMA) in 1991
(Parliamentary Counsel Office, 2014b). This law required
EIA certification as part of a comprehensive resource consent application. The
law called for AEE reports that include information which “correspondents with the scale and significance of the effects that the
activity may have upon the environment”. It
is clear that the government recognized the different scales and seriousness of
environmental impact. Therefore it developed a sliding scale which was designed
to address the different levels of environmental impact depending on the
activities of the polluter (Coull & Bamform, 2012). RMA has been
criticized for not including a specific duty
to consult despite its references to the public consultation paradigms of
the Treaty of Waitangi Principles (Boshier, 1998).
However in practice local authorities have relied on Schedule 4 of Section 36a
to require proof of public consultation. Furthermore section 93 of RMA sets out
the minimum considerations during the decision-making process. The
implementation of RMA shows that the strict letter of the law in New Zealand
may not adequately address all the issues of environmental protection but in
practice the precautionary authorities try to creatively use the legislative
regime in order to achieve these outcomes nonetheless. Perhaps New Zealand may
get even better results by insisting on clear codification under a single Act of Parliament.
The post-RMA era was marked by a series of legislative devices that were designed to complement and implement existing sustainable development programs. For example the Fisheries Act of 1996 attempted to create a paradigm through which commercial fishing could take place but bearing in mind the provisions of RMA. This particular act has been criticized for a disjointed implementation that never completely achieved the original objectives of the law
(Wheen, 2002). On the other hand the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 recognized the
role of human industrial activity and aggressive foreign species in degrading
the environment of New Zealand. The Land Transport
Act of 1998 looked forward to some of the issues that would concern modern
environmental policy makers including emissions and public health. It is not
entirely clear that these legislative devices were comprehensive enough to
serve as meaningful alternatives to RMA but their enactment showed that the
government was serious about creating a framework of environmental protection
and sustainable development. They are also notable for creating some of the key
criteria that would eventually define the EIA framework for New Zealand.
Most of the implementation was at local level and the central government chose an arms-length approach to the UNCED principles. For example:
“The New Zealand Government has strongly encouraged local governments to meet Agenda 21 standards. Many cities such as Hamilton, Christchurch, and Waitekere have successfully incorporated Agenda 21 at local level”
2006, p. 17).
The downside to such an approach is that it encourages disjointed and disparate implementation at a local level without any form of central coordination or control. New Zealand is also noted for not focusing on sustainable development as the overriding objective of EIA. Consequently there is no clearly defined framework for changing consumer attitudes and actions in areas such as recycling. One of the key scenes for the implementation of the EIA framework was the transition from the Mark I system to the Mark II system. The Mark II system was characterized by reference to local conditions and requirements before incorporation national standards under the federal system of government
(Wood C. , 2002, p. 14). New Zealand was not
as successful as Australia partly because of its weaker regional
infrastructures. It operated more in keeping with a Mark I system that might have focused on the creation of a minimum
The oil and gas industry is illustrative of the progress that New Zealand has made during this transition: In 2009 the government released the Petroleum Action Plan (PAP) which defined the framework under which EIA would be applied to the Oil and Energy Industry
(Coull & Bamform, 2012). PAP differed from
the earlier Crown Minerals Act (CMA)
of 1991 in as far as it did not concentrate on the possibilities of making
exploitation more efficient but also included core elements of EIA. Nevertheless
PAP has been criticized for putting environmental issues on the peripheral rather
than making it a central issue within the industry activities (Coull &
However, it is important to note that
PAP was an important milestone in the attempts to transform the industry into
an environmentally-conscious one. For example it allowed for a differentiated
regime of permits based on the potential to pollute. It also had a
pre-qualification process that precluded environmentally unfriendly projects. Furthermore
PAP removed the exclusion from having to gain ministerial consent for certain mining activities under Section 41
of CMA (Parliamentary
Counsel Office, 2014a). Moreover PAP encouraged deeper community
engagement with interested parties including the Iwi/Maori. The government has
also sought to incorporate EIA into offshore petroleum mining activities as
evidenced by the introduction of the Exclusive
Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (EEZ) Act of 2012 (Parliamentary
Counsel Office, 2013). The Marine Consent from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an
example of how EEZ encourages more consultation with the public along the lines
of EIA. The success of the regulatory reform agenda incorporating EIA into the
activities of the oil and gas industry is exemplified by the detailed
assessment process for the Taranaki Basin
Exploration Well (Anardarko NZ Taranaki Company,
It is inconceivable that such a detailed report could have been prepared with
specific EIA requirements.
This paper has shown that New Zealand has adopted the basic principles of EIA. However, rather than taking a wholesale approach the country has opted to adapt EIA in such a way as to address local environmental needs. If the fundamental aim of EIA was to create uniformity across the globe then clearly New Zealand has not taken that approach. On the other hand if the aim was to set up minimum standards that would guide policy makers then New Zealand is a success. Its transition into an EIA regime started with the political will as expressed in the ministerial statement. The country then moved on to actual legislation that was regularly updated in order to address new challenges. This is a case of a nation that is able to give practical meaning to a theoretical environmental management model.
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