The 2009 review of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality

This page is about the 2009 review of regulations 13–19 and Schedule 1 of the Resource Management (National Standards Relating to Certain Air Pollutants, Dioxins and other Toxics) Regulations 2004. 

About the review

On 10 June 2009, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced a review of Resource Management (National Standards Relating to Certain Air Pollutants, Dioxins and other Toxics) Regulations 2004 (the air quality standards).

The air quality standards, which were gazetted in 2004, set threshold concentrations for certain air pollutants with restrictions on industry after 2013 if the air quality standards are not met. The air quality standards are intended to help protect public health and the environment.

The review was supported by an independent technical advisory group (TAG) comprising the following members:

  • Phil Barry – Chair (Financial and economics adviser and independent consultant)
  • Kevin Mahon (Manager, Air Policy, Auckland Regional Council)
  • Dr Deborah Read (Public health physician and independent consultant)
  • Lawrence Yule (Mayor, Hastings District Council)
  • Kevin Rolfe (Director, Kevin Rolfe & Associates and independent consultant)

The role of the technical advisory group was to make recommendations to the Minister within the terms of reference for the review (see below). The TAG prepared an independent report containing its recommendations which was submitted to the Minister in November 2009.

The proposed amendments to the national environmental standards for air quality were publicly notified on 10 June 2010. Five workshops on the proposed amendments were held in main centres in June 2010 to inform people about the proposed amendments to the standard, and to encourage and assist people to prepare submissions on the proposal. Submissions on the discussion document were requested and accepted between 10 June 2010 and 9 July 2010.

Terms of reference

Regulations to be reviewed

Regulations 13–19 and Schedule 1 of the Resource Management (National Standards Relating to Certain Air Pollutants, Dioxins and other Toxics) Regulations 2004

Problem definition

Three aspects of the PM10 regulations in the air quality standards require attention. First, the number of permitted exceedances needs review. In 2003, the Ministry for the Environment proposed an ambient PM10 standard of 50 micrograms per cubic metre as a 24-hour average with 5 exceedances permitted per year. This proposal was reduced to 1 exceedance after consultation with regional councils; 5 being that permitted in Australia to allow for bushfires* and this being considered unnecessary for New Zealand. The Minister for the Environment wishes to review that decision.

Second, the target timeline of 2013 could be looked at. Is it achievable? What are the costs and benefits of still achieving it?

Third, the Minister for the Environment considers the compliance aspects of the air quality standards inequitable. The air quality standards have significant implications for industry because, after 2013, regional councils cannot grant consent for discharges in over-allocated airsheds. The air quality standards may unfairly penalise industry because domestic heating, not industry, is the primary source of this pollution.

Specific objectives for the review

To review the PM10 regulations in the air quality standards to ensure they provide the maximum net benefit to New Zealanders taking into account the economic, social and environmental benefits and costs of air pollution.

In scope

The review will determine the following:

  • How much are the regulations relating to PM10 costing?  This should include economic costs (i.e. costs of implementation), and health and social costs both prior to and post 2013.
  • Who is bearing these costs?
  • What are the benefits of the regulations relating to PM10 prior to 2013 and post 2013 (including economic, health and social benefits)?
  • Who is experiencing these benefits?
  • How do the actual costs and benefits differ from the original cost-benefit analysis?  Why?
  • Are the regulations relating to PM10 effective? This could include, but not be limited to:
  • What difference have they made?
  • Were they necessary?
  • Are the resource consent restrictions working? (ie, have they been an effective driver of regional policy to improve air quality since the introduction of the standards). If not, what can/should central government do about it?
  • Is the 2013 deadline appropriate? (The standards limit consent for industrial discharges but the primary source of pollution is domestic heating in most urban areas). If not, what are the alternatives?
  • Should we extend the deadline to some future date (with associated analysis of costs and benefits)? This could include increasing the number of permitted exceedances of the PM10 ambient standard (eg, five exceedances). NB: The actual ambient standards (i.e. concentration thresholds) are not under review.
  • Should we amend the 2013 deadline and use other methods to encourage regional councils to meet the standards? For example:
  • Fines for non-achievement of ambient standards based on estimated health impacts.
  • Sanctions and Minister approved action plans for areas of non-attainment similar to US approach.

Out of scope

The original objectives of the PM10 regulations in the air quality standards were:

  • provision of greater certainty for industry by providing a “level-playing field” that clarifies environmental expectations prior to the resource consent process
  • support for the protection of public health and the environment by providing a bottom-line standard that shall not be breached
  • provision of greater certainty in resource consent decision-making and regional plan preparation at the local level.

These policy objectives are still government priorities and are considered fit for purpose. Any fundamental review of these objectives is out of scope.

Quality assurance mechanism

The review will be informed by an independent report prepared by a technical advisory group. The Minister for the Environment will appoint a technical advisory group to invite written submissions from key stakeholders including:

  • industry
  • local government
  • public health units of the district health boards
  • central government agencies with portfolio responsibilities relating to air quality and public health.


An indicative timetable is provided below.

Project phases Estimated dates
Agree terms of reference, appoint technical advisory group May - July 2009
Tender updates to cost benefit analysis and health modelling May 2009
Undertake update to cost benefit analysis and health modelling June - July 2009
Environment Protection Directorate set up within the Ministry for the Environment
Appoint MfE project team
1 July 2009
Technical advisory group to review PM10 regulations of the air quality standards
Invite written submissions from key stakeholders
July - September 2009
Technical advisory group report to Minister for the Environment October 2009
Minister to review recommendations, consult with stakeholders and decide on regulatory improvements November – December 2009
Report back to Cabinet on outcomes of review February 2010

Review principles

The review must be consistent with the government's policy on regulatory reform and deliver a feasible set of options for regulatory reforms and recommendations (if reform is required) that will:

  • be the minimum necessary to achieve their objectives, having assessed costs, benefits, and risks
  • be as generic and as simple as the sector allows
  • use self regulatory approaches where appropriate
  • be appropriately durable, predictable and adaptable
  • where appropriate, accord with international best practice, being mindful of our commitment to a single economic market with Australia
  • minimise compliance costs imposed
  • aim to minimise adverse impacts on:
    1. innovation and investment
    2. competition
    3. individual responsibility
    4. property rights.

* The Terms of Reference incorrectly refer to Australia permitting 5 exceedances for "bushfires" when it should refer to "bushfire hazard reduction burning". There is a small but important difference. PM10 exceedances associated with bushfires are largely beyond regulatory control. PM10 exceedances associated with hazard reduction burning for the purpose of preventing bushfires, however, can be avoided or minimised.