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Environmental assessment: the evolution of policy and practice in New Zealand

Murray, Anne C.
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::050204 Environmental Impact Assessment , ANZSRC::180111 Environmental and Natural Resources Law , ANZSRC::160507 Environment Policy
Environmental assessment is a policy tool with significant potential for protecting the environment from the harmful effects of human activities. The evolution of the policy and practice of the environmental assessment (EA) process in New Zealand is the focus of this report. Although EA processes generate information many other important outcomes are identified. Models are presented which highlight these different outcomes including: production and use of environmental information (rational information model); changes outside of organisations (external reform model); modifications within organisations (internal reform model); no substantive change (token or symbolic model) and multiple outcomes (comprehensive model). Environmental assessment was introduced to New Zealand in the 1973 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures as a method for providing impact information to decision makers but with few provisions for internal and external reform. Successive modifications of the Procedures reflected strong desires by some within government to render the Procedures totally symbolic. In spite of those blocking efforts, the Procedures have resulted in improved environmental outcomes although implementation has at times been less than optimal. The Resource Management Bill has the potential to improve significantly the policy and practice of environmental assessment in New Zealand. Requirements for information on environmental implications of private proposals, mandatory environmental assessment and public review of local authorities' policies and plans, and the acknowledgement of the importance of values all represent potential improvements to the existing situation. The effect of the Resource Management Bill is difficult to predict at this time in part because of the extensive implementation discretion provided. However, changes that would facilitate the realisation of the EA provisions of the Bill are identified. These include the provision, by central government, of resources and guidance to local authorities to assist them with their new environmental assessment responsibilities and the strengthening of requirements for early public involvement.
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