The Resource Management Act (RMA) integrates environmental management. In 1991 it replaced fifty different statutes that dealt with air quality, noise control, water and soil conservation, town planning and coastal management. It covers all the effects on our environment that we rely on and value, such as breathing clean air or swimming at an unpolluted beach. It also encourages the protection of areas of our natural environment that provide habitat for indigenous species.
The purpose of the RMA is to promote the sustainable management of land, sea, air and water; with the focus on the effects that human activities have on the environment, rather than the types of activities. The environment is defined very broadly beyond just natural and physical resources, to include amenity values, all ecosystems and their parts (including people and communities). It does this by requiring that resources be protected for future generations and that the adverse effects of any proposed activities on the environment are avoided, remedied or mitigated. Effects are also defined very broadly to include ‘cumulative, future’ and ‘potential effects’ (including those of a low probability, but which have a high potential impact). It also provides a set of environmental principles for resource management planning and decision making.
The RMA is controlled by 78 local authorities comprising 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities (unitary authorities, city and district councils). District and city councils are generally responsible for making decisions about anything that might affect what the community has agreed is important:
– the effects of land use (e.g. plans to clear native bush or change historic buildings)
– the effects of activities on the surface of rivers and lakes
District and city councils also carry out responsibilities under the Local Government Act, for example, catching stray dogs, mowing public playing grounds and removing rubbish.
Regional councils are generally responsible for making decisions about resources that are not generally owned by individuals:
– discharges of contaminants to land, air or water
– water quality and quantity
– the coastal marine area
– soil conservation
– land use to avoid natural hazards