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The Press-News column June 24

Clearing the Air in Christchurch.

When will ECan pull its head out of its chimney? When will our little regional fiefdom come to its senses, stop terrorising low emission log-burning Cantabrians, and declare that the National Environmental Standards on Air Quality are an unachievable imposition? The Ministry of Environment’s edict on air quality standards, passed under the previous Labour government, prohibits Canterbury from clocking up any more than three high pollution nights by 2016, and one by 2020. It’s a dog on a too tighter leash. In winter’s opening shots, Christchurch and Timaru have already hit double digits, while Kaiapoi, Ashburton and Waimate have all breached the 2016 limit. Gold star to Geraldine, the only Canterbury town within a bull’s roar of compliance. But Canterbury has made great strides this century in cleaning up our skies. They’re a far cry from the bleak winters of the 1970s, when the coal-choked air was so thick, I could taste it while walking to school, through the monstering black haze. We’ve dramatically cleaned up our act, thanks to log burner technology and the crackdowns on open fires and coal. Sure, in the past four years, progress has plateaued in Christchurch, with an annual average of 20 high pollution nights. But just go back to 1999, when we clocked 60 high pollution nights, 57 in 2001, and 49 in 2003. How low can we reasonably expect to go, without condemning tens of thousands more homeowners to mouldy, damp, flu-riddled winters, or an over- reliance on second rate heat pumps and rocketing power bills? Recently, my parents were forced to shell-out for a new, compliant low-emission wood burner, to replace their old Kent fire, following 15 years of faithful service. For ECan to now sabre-rattle by suggesting they may have to rip that out, come 2016, is contemptible . And my folks certainly don’t need to be patronised with infantilising lessons on how to light a fire that doesn’t asphyxiate the neighbourhood. Target the trouble-makers. Similarly, now that ECan has finally relaxed its heavy-handed officiousness on ultra low-emisison testing, how about they actively help in bringing the new technology to market? But the elephant in the room is the National Air Quality Standard’s draconian application. Despite repeated approaches, Environment Minister, Amy Adams, refused to express her stance on the exceedance limit. Why should we be straight-jacketed with this “no more than 3” arbitrary limit, when the European Union standard, for every town and city, is “no more than 35 exceedances in a calendar year.”? Attempting to adhere to our swingeing limit is a perverse pipedream.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press newspaper. June 24.


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