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The Press-News column July 1

Going European with our Air Quality.

My inbox has been huffing and puffing with feedback, and a bit of blowback, to last week’s opinion piece, in which I argued that ECan should declare the National Environmental Standards on Air Quality an unreasonable, unachievable imposition on Cantabrians. Unless our little regional fiefdom stumbles upon a Harry Potter wand to magic away our inversion layer, how can ECan meet the air quality target of “no more than 3 high pollution nights” in 2016?  As July dawns, Christchurch and Timaru are already marching deep into double digit naughty nights. As opposed to continuing to terrorise Cantabrians with the spectre of blanket bans on low-emission burners, post 2016,  wouldn’t it be refreshing if we had a regional council that was prepared to challenge central government to “go European” with the Air Quality standards?  Then again, maybe our commissioners are fearful that such audacity could see them unceremoniously dispatched and replaced with –er- commissioners. Unlike our stringent high pollution exceedance target, every single town and city in the European Union, no matter how big or small, is governed by the World Health Organisation-endorsed regulation of “no more than 35 high pollution PM10 exceedances per calendar year.”  So what about our community leaders? Do they support our hard-line pursuit of “no more than 3 by 2016?” I canvassed a range of views. The city council’s environment committee chairman, Cr Phil Clearwater,  doesn’t support any relenting in the clean air crusade, saying that “meeting the limit of no more than 3 has to be achieved.” Local MPs, Ruth Dyson and Nicky Wagner are taking a far more pragmatic, and frankly sensible approach, with Dyson arguing that the overall wellbeing of Cantabrians is more important than achieving an arbitrary standard. The Port Hills MP believes currently permitted woodburners are legitimate long-term heating sources, if used properly. Meanwhile, the Christchurch Central MP highlights the huge improvements in lowering pollution we’ve already made in the past decade, and questions how much lower people can be willingly expected to go.  The Environment Minister, Amy Adams, believes it’s vital any further measures by ECan are underpinned with strong public support. Adams says “at this stage there are no plans to relax the standards.” The operative being  at this stage. Meanwhile, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Alistair Humphrey fired me a provocative missive, in which he claims that woodburners are not viable long-term, and that 70% of their users are “middle class and wealthy Cantabrians who CHOOSE to use them, because they like a real fire.” Spank.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press newspaper. July 1.

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