The Government has slammed the forestry industry over its response to phasing out methyl bromide

New Zealand’s Government has lobbed a bomb at the forestry industry, slamming a lack of progress in finding ways to reduce emissions of the ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide. In a letter to industry groups, Environment Minister David Parker says he and his colleagues are “very concerned” that it appears a deadline to have all methyl bromide emissions recaptured by October, 2020 will be missed. While there had been collaborative efforts through the industry group Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (Stimbr), he said, “it appears that to date most companies have not been willing to invest sufficiently in effective recapture technology or infrastructure”. He called for a meeting of stakeholders early in the new year to discuss solutions. The industry has hit back, saying in a response letter that the deadline was “self-imposed” by government and could lead to “significant economic disruption”. Forest owners have also fired a broadside at the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), accusing it of delays in ruling on an application to register a chemical it hopes will be a replacement for methyl bromide. Stuff revealed in an investigate series in June that New Zealand was the world’s fifth biggest user of methyl bromide – most of it applied to export logs – our usage soaring from less than 100 tonnes in the early 2000s to around 600 tonnes today. In his letter to Stimbr chair Don Hammond and other industry groups, Parker said under the Montreal Protocol aimed at protecting the ozone layer, New Zealand had an obligation to minimise methyl bromide emissions as much as possible through containment and recapture technologies. A re-assessment of the pesticide by the EPA in 2010 resulted in a new control requiring all fumigations to use recapture technology within 10 years. “The recapture obligation effectively requires 99.9 per cent of methyl bromide used to be recaptured. However, nowhere near this level of recapture is currently being achieved, and nor is it likely to be by 2020,” Parker wrote. “We want to remind you that the 2020 deadline is getting ever closer. Any operator non-compliant after the deadline will be unable to operate after this date.” Methyl bromide damages the ozone layer and is a threat to human health. Parker told Stuff officials had raised concerns with him and other ministers including Forestry Minister Shane Jones and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor that the deadline was approaching. “Unless something is fixed by then, we’ve got a I’m trying to avoid that problem by bringing forward a solution.” David Rhodes, chief executive of the Forest Owners Association, wrote back pointing out that the deadline was “self-determined” by government and not actually required to meet New Zealand’s international obligations. It had been clear for some time that the deadline “was a goal that has served us well as a strong driver of innovation but is also impossible given current science and technology.” He said that if methyl bromide was not available for use on export logs it would impact regional economies. “The Indian log trade worth $250m per annum would halt…while a portion of the logs destined for China would also be affected,” he wrote. “Adherence to a self-imposed deadline, rigidly interpreted, may well result in significant economic disruption.” Rhodes rejected the notion that forestry companies had been reluctant to invest in new technologies, saying an industry levy raising $1.6m a year had been used to research sustainable alternatives. “I can assure you that if there is a proven, sustainable technology that helps meet our collective objective then investment uptake will not be an issue,” Rhodes wrote. He was also critical of the EPA for delays in approving use of Ethanedinitrile (EDN), which is safer than methyl bromide and which the industry hopes will become a replacement. Stimbr had encouraged the manufacturer, Czech company Draslovka, to make an early application to have EDN registered as it still had to gain resource consent and approval from trading partners. The application was lodged in July, 2017, but no decision had been announced. Rhodes said the EPA had promised to work with Draslovka to ensure the application was as complete as possible but the level of input “was never forthcoming”. Emails and phone calls from industry parties had gone unanswered, he said. The registration process was a “closed shop with no possibility of engaging face-to-face at critical points” and was “well short of what we consider was reasonable to expect for any process, let alone one with these implications and looming deadline.” Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, general manager of the EPA’s hazardous substances group, said the decision on EDN was before an independent committee and there were no statutory timeframes for a decision. The application was publicly notified and there had been public consultations and hearings, she said. “We would be happy to discuss any concerns about the application process directly with the applicant Draslovka.”

Stuff, 10 December 2018 ;