The Court had to consider two opposing applications for declarations regarding whether or not, in the context of a resource consent application for coal mining operations, regard can be had to effects of greenhouse gases arising from the subsequent combustion of the coal on climate change. The applications by Buller Coal, Solid Energy and West Coast Environment Network Incorporated followed appeals against the granting of consents for the Escarpment mine and the closing of submissions on the applications for the Mt William North mine project.
The parties agreed that section 104E of the RMA is not relevant in this case given that the two resource consent applications are for mining activities and do not involve applications for discharge permits. Section 104E provides that the decision maker must not have regard to the effects of the discharge on climate change except to the extent that the use and development of renewable energy enables a reduction in the discharge of greenhouse gases.
In the present case, West Coast ENT argued that sections 5, 7(i) and 104(1) of the RMA can be interpreted to permit local authorities to determine applications concerning the extraction of coal by reference to effects on climate change. However, Judge Newhook did not accept that there was "any ambiguity, uncertainty, or room for discretion or "choice" in the interpretation of the words and policy of the provisions" of the RMA. The 2004 Amendment Act pointed "strongly to a finding that regulatory activity on the important topic of climate change is taken firmly away from regional government" and instead is to be conducted by central government. Consequently, the effects of GHG emissions on climate change are not relevant to applications for coal extraction (whether they involve air discharge applications or not).