April 19 deadline for submissions to EPA on methyl bromide alternative

Draslovka, a Czech-based firm, has applied to the Environmental Protection Authority for approval to register and import ethanedinitrile (EDN) into New Zealand as an alternative to the fumigant methyl bromide which is used for export logs and timber at New Zealand ports.

The submission period for this application has been extended one week to 5pm, Thursday 19 April 2018.

Application documents can be found HERE.

More information about how to make a submission on this application can be found HERE.

Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR), an organisation focused on reducing the release of methyl bromide into the atmosphere, have identified EDN as a possible substitute following an international review of alternative treatments.

According to 2015 data, New Zealand is the world’s fifth-highest user of methyl bromide.

In 2010 the Environmental Protection Authority announced that by 2020 methyl bromide fumigations for logs must use recapture technology to reduce the amount discharged into the atmosphere.

WorkSafe New Zealand is also consulting on proposed changes to the Workplace Exposure Standard for EDN.

More information on Worksafe’s proposed changes can be found HERE.

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EPA chief releases statement to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee

Dr Allan Freeth, Chief Executive of the Environmental Protection Authority, today released a statement he made to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee on his dealings with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

The statement deals with his authority’s independence and with the recent resignation of its Chief Scientist, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

The statement says:

I wrote to the Committee last week, in relation to an email I received from the Honourable Nick Smith, raising concerns about apparent inconsistencies in the evidence I provided to the Select Committee at the annual review hearing on 15 February 2018.

I note that the concerns were raised in the context of questions about whether there had been any discussions with the Associate Minister for the Environment, Hon Eugenie Sage, about the Environmental Protection Authority’s then Chief Scientist, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

Thank you for accepting my offer to appear again, although, contrary to media reports, I am not here to correct any previous statements.

Consistent with my communication to the Committee last week, I wish to confirm to the Committee that I did not provide any inaccurate or incorrect information in my previous evidence.

As I stated, at no time, in the period covered by, and up to the Select Committee hearing, did I have any discussions with Minister Sage about Dr Rowarth or the role and independence of the EPA.

I note that, since I communicated my offer last week to return to the Committee, Minister Sage has made a personal statement to the House correcting her answers to oral questions, which touched on whether I had been present at a meeting, which I understand took place on 29 November 2017, when she told officials that her office had received correspondence about media comments by Dr Rowarth.

The Minister said in her correcting statement that (and I quote): “The EPA’s Chief Executive was not at the meeting on 29 November. The meeting was a briefing from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) about the EPA, and I advised MfE’s Chief Executive that my office had received correspondence.”

I also wish to confirm that at no time in the period covered by, and up to the Committee hearing, had Minister Sage raised any issue with me about the scientific independence of the EPA.

The Minister’s office did send me an article that had been emailed to her by a member of the public. I acknowledged that I had seen it and offered to have a follow-up meeting with the Minister if requested. My offer of a follow-up meeting with the Minister was not acknowledged and no meeting occurred.

I regard it as entirely legitimate for the Minister’s office to send media reports to me, in the context of the responsible Minister’s oversight of the Authority. My experience up to now, has been consistent with this practice.

The Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment also emailed me about the article. These communications are now a matter of public record. However, I note that the questions raised with me about the EPA’s scientific independence were expressly in the context of Ministerial interference.

In conclusion, Dr Freeth said he trusts this clarifies the situation.

He assured the committee the EPA takes the issue of its independence extremely seriously. He saw no basis for concerns in regard to this status; nor did he expect concerns to be raised in the future.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

EPA to raise the costs of providing its services for safeguarding the environment

The Environmental  Protection Authority is calling for public submissions on proposals for increasing its charges .

The costs of assessing hazardous substance applications are “changing” as it aims to develop a more balanced approach to the way it charges for its services, the authority announced today.

“The services we provide in assessing and processing applications for hazardous substances and new organisms play a key role in the way we work to protect the New Zealand environment and the communities in which we all live, work and play,” says Chief Executive, Dr Allan Freeth.

“Under our existing approach applicants pay, on average, just over 10 per cent of what it really costs us to manage an application from start to finish. That means that it falls to the taxpayer to pick up the rest. We don’t think that’s fair.

“With that in mind we are looking to develop a more realistic cost-recovery approach that will see organisations who use our services pay a fairer share.

“That would, in turn, free up our government funding and allow us to pump more money into reassessing chemicals of concern, ensuring enforcement and compliance with the rules around their use, and delivering information and advice to the public on staying safe around hazardous substances.”

Public submissions are sought on a consultation paper which outlines the charging proposals.

Click HERE for a quick summary of the proposals and the approach taken to determine the new fees.

• Click HERE to download the full consultation paper.

•And HERE to make a submission.

Submissions close on 21 May 2018.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

EPA chief sticks to his story over departure of chief scientist and denies interference

EPA chief executive Allan Freeth has rejected suggestions he misled a select committee over the alleged involvement of Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage in the departure of his chief scientist.

According to a Stuff report this afternoon (HERE):

Allan Freeth reappeared in front of the Environment Committee to reiterate earlier assertions that no ministerial interference took place to oust the independent regulator’s former chief scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

He also rejected suggestions she was sacked or that she was managed out, but said Rowarth had been the subject of a “vicious” and prolonged social media attack and had been unhappy for some months prior to her leaving.

Dr Rowarth resigned earlier this year.
Ms Sage told Parliament 10 days ago she had advised the EPA chief executive that her office had received correspondence expressing some concerns about media comments by the chief scientist.
“I was told the matter was in hand, there was no substantive discussion,” Sage said.

Her remarks nevertheless prompted allegations of political interference in the operations of an independent Crown Entity.

Dr Freeth has reaffirmed what he originally told MPs – he’d had “absolutely no discussions” with Ms Sage in relation to Dr Rowarth’s employment and the agency’s independence and the minister was incorrect.

Ms Sage has revised her version of what transpired and said her memory had failed her.

But Ms Sage did have a staffer send an email to Dr Freeth, which contained an article highly critical of Dr Rowarth and public comments she had made in support of irrigation.

She has since said she regretted sending the email.

According to the latest Stuff report:

Freeth said he binned the email shortly after he received it. While he admitted having a discussion with Rowarth about issues raised in the article – namely scientific approach Rowarth had used to defend irrigation – he rejected suggestions her employment was discussed.

He also rejected the assertion of National MP Nick Smith that, while in Opposition the relevant ministers (Sage and Environment Minister David Parker) “opposed the appointment of the chief scientist, were vocal about it, came to Government, wanted rid of her, and you (Freeth) did their bidding”.

“No. Or not that I’m aware of,” Freeth said.

“I was certainly unaware of Minister Sage’s views about Jacqueline.”

Dr Freeth stood by comments he made in an email to the select committee that he did have a conversation with Mr Parker in late November regarding Dr Rowarth. But this was only in the context of the EPA’s overall scientific approach.

Ms Sage earlier this week agreed Dr Rowarth had been subjected to a nasty social media campaign.

“I think it was vicious.

“I made a comment in the House I think, about some comments she had made. To the best of my memory, I have never criticised Dr Rowarth personally.”

Stuff’s earlier reports on the issue include –

Petition demands removal of protection agency scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth

EPA chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth resigns position to take up education role

Scientist Jacqueline Rowarth says she left EPA of own accord 

Green Party Minister changes her story about meeting with EPA boss

The question of whether a Minister has interfered in Environmental Protection Authority staffing matters has been rekindled after Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage revised her account of what happened.

The Green Party Minister now says she didn’t meet with the EPA’s chief executive Allan Freeth when she previously said she did and she doesn’t think she discussed the EPA’s controversial chief scientist with him like she said she had, Radio New Zealand reported this morning.

According to the Radio New Zealand report (HERE):

The scientist, Jacqueline Rowarth, resigned this year after Ms Sage, the associate Environment Minister, and others raised concerns about her conduct with Dr Freeth.

As well as forwarding a highly critical article about Dr Rowarth to the EPA, Ms Sage told Parliament 10 days ago she met with Dr Freeth and discussed her.

“I advised the EPA chief executive that my office had received correspondence expressing some concerns about media comments by the chief scientist – I was told the matter was in hand, there was no substantive discussion,” Ms Sage told the House.

Those comments led to accusations from National that Ms Sage had inappropriately interferred in staff matters at the EPA.

They have led to Dr Freeth returning to Parliament today, to explain why he told MPs he’d had “absolutely no discussions” with Ms Sage on the matter.

Ms Sage now maintains she was wrong all along – and that her memory let her down.

“I was relying on my memory, and when we checked it was actually a meeting with the Ministry for the Environment – not with the EPA, so when I raised that (Dr Rowarth’s behaviour) it was with the chief executive of the MfE.”

Ms Sage said she met with the EPA’s Dr Freeth at a later date, when asked whether she discussed Dr Rowarth at the meeting she responded “my memory is that I didn’t”.

But National’s environment spokesperson Scott Simpson is sceptical.

“It’s very confusing for her (Sage), because for her not to be able to distinguish between the chief scientist of the EPA, a middle aged male, versus the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment, a female, is beyond belief.”

Ms Sage said she had learnt a valuable lesson – it is not to rely on her memory but to check the records.

Dr Freeth will appear before the Environment select committee this morning.

 

Associate Minister is questioned about emailing of article critical of EPA’s chief scientist

Eugenie Sage, the Associate Minister for the Environment, faced further questioning in Parliament today about whether a Minister should interfere in the independence of the Environmental Protection Authority, particularly in its employment of its Chief Scientist.

She was asked why she instructed her office on 15 December to email a copy of a highly critical article about the chief scientist to the chief executive of the EPA with the subject “Great article”?

In answer to the first part of the question, Ms Sage said “yes”.

In answer to the second part, she said she simply forwarded an article to her private secretary to pass on to the chief executive for their information.

“To be clear, I did not write the subject line of that email; it was written by a member of the public who sent the article to me.”

The questioning presumably is aimed at determining if inappropriate government pressure was a factor in the recent resignation of chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth.

National’s Scott Simpson then asked what was the date of the meeting where matters relating to the employment of the EPA’s chief scientist were discussed between the Minister and the EPA chief executive, referred to in answer to a question on 22 March, when she said, “I was told the matter was in hand.”?

This was “a status meeting”, Ms Sage replied – her first meeting with the EPA.

She said she thought it was on 29 November

“… and there was no substantive discussion of the work of Dr Rowarth”.

Mr Scott asked the Minister why she feel it necessary to involve herself in a series of emails and meetings both seeking and approving a “course of action” around the EPA’s chief scientist, in the emails dated 28 November.

Ms Sage replied:

The email dated 28 November was from the Secretary for the Environment, setting out a course of action. I simply said that I approved the course of action. There was no substantive discussion.

“If the member would be aware of the Crown Entities Act, that gives the Minister, in relation to Crown entities, a responsibility to manage the risks on behalf of the Crown.”

Ms Sage quoted from the guidance to Ministers:

“Along with being answerable to the House of Representatives, you are also answerable to the public for problems or controversies arising in connection with the entity by responding to questions and participating in debates and reviews.”

She repeatedly had said the public needs to have confidence in the independence of the EPA, therefore matters in the media questioning that independence should be of interest to the chief executive.

Hon James Shaw: What has Dr Rowarth herself said about why she left her post at the Environmental Protection Authority?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Dr Rowarth has said publicly that she was not pushed out of her role and that she continues to do contract work for the EPA.

Ms Sage said “yes”, when Mr Scott then asked if the Minister stood by her answer to a question last week that it would be entirely inappropriate for her to be involved in an employment matter.

Hon Scott Simpson: Isn’t the only obvious conclusion from the emails exchanged on “a course of action” and the discussions and meetings held by the Minister with the EPA chief executive that she wanted the chief scientist gone and that the chief executive then initiated an employment conversation with the chief scientist that led to her going?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE: No.

EPA unfazed by health experts’ demand for glyphosate to be banned

The Environmental Protection Authority has shrugged off criticism of its processes by a group of public health experts.

Writing in the latest edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, the experts argued the authority used unsound methodology in its comments on the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in many weedkillers including Roundup.

AgScience posted an account of their argument HERE.

Glyphosate had been criticised as probably carcinogenic by a specialist agency of the World Health Organisation but the EPA rebutted this.

In their article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the health experts say the rebuttal was unsound.

The health scientists were led by Professor Jeroen Douwes, of the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University in Wellington, who wants the herbicide restricted.

He and his team also want the EPA to cancel the report which clears glyphosate of serious health risks.

They say the methodology of the EPA report was not of a sufficient standard to overturn earlier findings that Glyphosate was probably carcinogenic.

But Radio New Zealand reports the authority as saying the scientists themselves have produced a deficient argument.

The EPA said the article contained very little new information and relied significantly on media references and opinion.

It acknowledged public concern around glyphosate, but said it is a scientific organisation and its decisions must be based on evidence and data.

“EPA’s decision-making processes are more extensive and complex than implied in the commentary. The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act requires us to follow a set process when considering chemicals for reassessment, which is costly.

“The process ensures we spend taxpayers’ money wisely, and that we address those chemicals which present the biggest threat to human health and our environment, in priority order,” the statement said.

The authority added glyphosate was on a watchlist, but other chemicals remained more dangerous.

“For example, paraquat (a weed killer) is currently undergoing reassessment, to be followed by chlorpyrifos (a pesticide), because both chemicals are determined to be considerably more harmful to people and our environment than glyphosate at the present time. This reflects the EPA’s commitment to protecting human health and environmental safety.”

According to an earlier Radio New Zealand report yesterday, Professor Douwes said:

“I don’t think we need glyphosate for private use and so a ban (on private gardens) could be introduced.”

He didn’t think an outright ban would be justified, but he said he did believe some signage on the packaging would be useful to raise awareness of what people are using to they can protect themselves.

He also said a ban could be considered on the use of glyphosate by local councils but it could be too soon to ban the herbicide from farms.