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6 Resource consent restrictions

The regulations state that after 1 September 2005 regional councils and unitary authorities must only grant resource consents in line with the requirements outlined in regulations 17 to 21.

Specifically, after 1 September 2013 councils cannot grant consent for an industrial discharge if the airshed exceeds the ambient standard for particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10). Before then, the regulations restrict the granting of resource consent for discharges of PM10 in accordance with a ‘straight-line path’ or a ‘curved-line path’ to compliance. This is summarised in figure 1.

The regulation requirements are status dependent; in other words, if air quality is good, no action is required.

Figure 1: Straight- and curved-line paths to compliance

Figure 1: Straight- and curved-line paths to compliance

Figure 1 shows a plot of emissions on the y-axis versus time on the x-axis.  There are two bars representing emissions separated by a straight line and curved line and notated with concentration levels. 

The first bar represents the state of the air quality when the ambient standards came into force (1 September 2005) which has nominal emissions of 1,000 kg/km2/day and a maximum daily PM10 concentration of 200 µg/m3

The second bar represents the state of air quality when the ambient standard is met (by 1 September 2013) which has nominal emissions of 300 kg/km2/day and a maximum daily PM10 concentration of 50 µg/m3

The straight line and curved lines between these bars are the projections of how the regional council will attain compliance with the fine particle standard by 1 September 2013, i.e. the rate at which things must improve to achieve compliance by that date.

6.1 Straight-line path requirements

As noted above, councils identified 39 airsheds likely to exceed the ambient standards. Of these, 38 airsheds are considered likely to exceed the PM10 ambient standard and attract restrictions on the granting of resource consent. Councils have gazetted the majority of these airsheds and ascertained straight-line path requirements. Exceptions (ie, airsheds identified as likely to exceed with no straight-line path) are:

  • Auckland Regional Council: Kumeu, Pukekohe

  • Environment Southland: Winton

  • Environment Canterbury: Hanmer, Kaikoura, Temuka

  • Hawke’s Bay Regional Council: Awatoto, Whirinaki

  • Horizons Regional Council: Taumarunui.

Table 6 summarises all the airsheds and the status of their straight-line paths. (This information was not collected during interviews; it is provided annually to the Ministry by councils with summary ambient air quality monitoring data.) Table 6 identifies nine airsheds that councils consider likely to exceed the PM10 standard for which councils have not ascertained a straight-line path. The table further shows that seven airsheds have exceeded their straight-line paths to compliance. The regulations require offsets for existing industry, and prohibit any new industry if ambient air quality exceeds the straight-line path between 1 September 2005 and 1 September 2013.

Table 6: Straight-line path status of airsheds likely to exceed the ambient standards

Council

Straight-line path compliant

Straight-line path exceeded (when)

No straight-line path

Auckland

 

Auckland (2007)

Kumeu

Pukekohe

Bay of Plenty

Rotorua

   

Canterbury

Christchurch

Geraldine

Kaiapoi

Rangiora

Timaru

Waimate

Ashburton (2006)

Hanmer

Kaikoura

Temuka

Gisborne

   

Hawke’s Bay

Hastings

Napier

 

Awatoto

Whirinaki

Horizons

   

Taumarunui

Marlborough

Blenheim

   

Nelson

Nelson A

Nelson B (2007)

 

Northland

Whangarei

   

Otago

Airshed 2a

Airshed 3a

Airshed 1a (2007)

 

Southland

Invercargill

Gore

 

Winton

Taranaki

   

Tasman

 

Richmond (2006)

 

Waikato

Hamilton

Putaruru

Taupo

Te Kuiti (2006)

Tokoroa (2006, 2007)

 

Wellingtonb

Wairarapa

Wainuiomata

   

West Coast

Reefton

   

a Otago Regional Council gazetted 22 towns collectively as Airsheds 1, 2 and 3. The council has since notified these towns collectively in a different order through a plan change as Air Zones 1 and 2.

b Table 6 was updated to incorporate advice from Greater Wellington in December 2008; the original interview is unchanged.

6.2 Consents granted − airsheds with a straight-line path

Councils indicate that since 1 September 2005 there have been nearly 100 consents granted for discharges of PM10 in airsheds with a straight-line path. This is summarised in table 7.

Table 7: Consents granted in airsheds with straight-line paths

Council

Airshed

Number of consents / details

Auckland

Auckland

1 / OI NZ glassworks (old NZ Glass)

Bay of Plenty

NA

 

Canterbury

Christchurch

Timaru

Ashburton

Rangiora

65

5

3

2

Gisborne

NA

 

Hawke’s Bay

NA

 

Horizons

NA

 

Marlborough

Blenheim

1 / Flight Timbers kiln and sawmill

Nelson

Nelson B

4 / Kiwi Orchids, Bens Oil, Fulton Hogan asphalt plant, Sealords shellfish plant

Northland

Whangarei

5

Otago

Not supplied

3

Southland

Not supplied

1 / School coal-fired boiler

Taranaki

NA

 

Tasman

NA

 

Waikato

Hamilton

Putaruru

6

1

Wellington

NA

 

West Coast

NA

 

Note: NA = not applicable.

Assessment of significance

Regulation 17 restricts the granting of consents in airsheds exceeding the PM10 standard if “the discharge to be permitted by the resource consent is likely to increase significantly the concentration of PM10 in the airshed”. This is commonly referred to as the ‘significance’ test.

The review shows that council assessments of significance are highly variable.

The Auckland Regional Council approach to assessing significance has been heavily influenced by a Chen Palmer legal opinion on the regulations. This opinion provides that, due to the relative significance of other sectors in Auckland (notably vehicle and domestic heating emissions), industry is not a major contributor to PM10 exceedances over the Auckland airshed in its entirety. The Auckland Regional Council has not released the legal opinion in full.

Other councils assessed significance using a combination, or all, of the following:

  • the discharge in relation to total discharges into the airshed

  • the potential impact (ie, predicted maximum concentrations) in relation to the ambient standard

  • the potential impact in relation to a de minimus threshold (eg, the inherent error associated with ambient monitoring, which is ± 5 µg/m3)

  • the overall impact, both with and without the proposal.

Of all consents listed in table 7, three were considered significant by the council.

Otago Regional Council is unique in not applying any significance test when considering resource consents.

Assessment of the straight-line path

Both Marlborough District Council and Northland Regional Council considered existing significant discharges in the context of an existing compliant straight-line path. This was taken to mean that consent could be granted. Northland also looked at meteorological variation (ie, how does the existing compliant airshed stack up against previous years in terms of meteorology?) to ensure compliance would not be compromised in future. Otago Regional Council indicated they did not assess any applications in accordance with the straight-line path.

Councils deemed all other applications for consent not significant. This meant that no applications required assessment in accordance with the straight-line path. Despite not considering any industry significant, the Auckland Regional Council indicated that they require each individual industry to meet a reduction of 15 per cent over baseline by 2013. This is to allow ‘headspace’ for future growth.

Use of offsets

Offsets are mitigation measures included in a proposal to offset predicted impacts so that emissions from the new activity are offset by emission reductions elsewhere in the airshed. However, because the majority of consents were not considered significant, offsets were not specifically required by the regulations.

Despite this, Environment Canterbury reported a consent that incorporated the use of offsets: New Zealand Dairies Ltd in Waimate. In this consent the applicant removed 36 open fires and older burners to allow for a new coal-fired boiler. The fires were replaced with either heat pumps or pellet burners. The consent further includes conditions requiring in-house monitoring (real-life testing) of five pellet fires, every five years, to ensure the offsets are real and measurable.

Auckland Regional Council indicated that they have been having preliminary discussions about offsets with a large corporation which owns 15 of the top 30 dischargers in the region. The discussions included upgrading some plants, mothballing others and ‘trading’ emissions from the remainder.

Additional consent information

Auckland Regional Council further indicated that they require current industry to reach best practice as soon as practicable and to implement continuous improvement to maintain a headspace for future growth. This includes regular review of international best practice for each industry, with annual reporting to the council. Auckland further indicated that both mass and concentration emissions limits in consent conditions must be met with annual reporting to the council.

Other councils required similar reductions in PM10 emissions from individual applicants as follows:

  • Marlborough District Council – 20 per cent by 2012

  • Northland Regional Council – 30 per cent immediately

  • Otago Regional Council – upgrade to best practice within three years.

Nelson City Council indicated that they have their own Good Practice Guide for industry applicants based on the reductions needed in each airshed.

6.3 Consents granted − airsheds without a straight-line path

As mentioned above, councils have identified 11 airsheds as being likely to exceed the PM10 standard for which no straight-line path has been ascertained. Greater Wellington indicated that around four consents had been issued for industry in Masterton (ie, the Wairarapa airshed) before the straight-line path was set in October 2008. Otago Regional Council granted consent for a Fonterra cheese factory in Stirling. No monitoring data is available for Stirling, but modelling indicated that exceedances (due to domestic sources) were likely. Consent was granted for 35 years, with a requirement to upgrade in three years from 18 kg/hr to 2.5 kg/hr (25–50 mg/m3).

Regulation 17 only provides for consent to be granted in accordance with the straight-line path if an airshed exceeds the PM10 standard. Depending on the significance of these discharges, the above consents may not be valid.

6.4 Consents declined

Northland Regional Council is the only council to have declined an application for consent during this period. The consent was for an application to burn waste oil in a bitumen plant. Northland noted the proposal would have resulted in an increase in PM10, acid gas, dioxin and heavy metal emissions, as well as increased variability in emissions of sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. Also, the applicant could only guarantee the used oil would comply with proposed specifications 90 per cent of the time.

One council commented that it was highly unlikely to decline any application for consent.

6.5 Review of implementation

It appears that councils may be taking a lenient approach to establishing ‘significance’. Although this review did not examine consent decisions in detail, it is hard to believe that only three consents, out of around 100 industrial consents granted since 2005, were significant. If more were in fact significant, this indicates that councils have been avoiding the restrictions on granting consents for discharges of PM10.

One council appears to have openly disregarded the regulations when making consent decisions.

Effectiveness

Council opinion on the effectiveness of the consent restrictions in the regulations was split. Auckland Regional Council and Northland Regional Council expressed concern over the regulations’ inconsistent approach for different pollutants.

From the Ministry’s perspective, the question of significance is important because it affects the legal validity of consents granted by councils. This is particularly true for those airsheds with air quality exceeding the straight-line path. The intent behind the restrictions on the granting of consents (both before and after 2013) is to drive regional policy to implement actions to reduce emissions of PM10. If councils are interpreting the regulations correctly, then this appears to have been largely unsuccessful and a re-evaluation of the significance threshold in the regulations is warranted.