Why is Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell
sticking his neck out for a lead battery recycling company embroiled in a
host of environmental scandals at its NZ-based smelter?

Australian
company Exide has operated a car battery reprocessing plant in Petone, a
seaside suburb of Wellington, since the mid 1960s. Surrounded by a few car
yards and a number of homes and housing commission flats, the plant first
came under fire two years ago after it was discovered that the lead-laced
emissions from its smoke stacks exceeded World Health Organisation
standards.

Action groups were formed and the local community was up in arms. The
spotlight of attention soon shone on several other instances of
dodgy practice by Exide, including their dumping of drums of
highly toxic and smelly slag at the local tip (illegal under the Basel
Convention on the movement of hazardous waste, to which NZ and
Australia are signatories) and very recently unearthed proof that they
had contributed to the pollution of the local Te Mome stream, which
posts lead and arsenic levels some six times higher than the
environmental guideline standard.

With nearby residents now being
advised not to grow veggies without a thick layer of compost or to let their
kids play in the backyard dirt, the locals are doing some digging. They’ve
got their hands on a raft of minutes from meetings of the Aussie Department
of Environment and Heritage’s Hazardous Waste Act Policy Reference Group –
and it’s interesting reading.

When Exide’s export permit was up for
renewal in early 2004 the Group recommended to Campbell on three separate
occasions that Exide’s permit either be reduced or scrapped
altogether. They stated that the recycling could easily be done more
efficiently and without the production of hazardous slag by smelters in
Australia.

Meeting minutes from later in 2004 describe how “bitterly
disappointed” the group was at Campbell’s decision to overrule
their recommendations and grant another three-year permit to Exide,
adding that the decision “appears to have been based on commercial rather
than environmental considerations”.

50% of the batteries processed at
the NZ smelter are from Australia and with Exide’s permit up for renewal
again on 13 August 2007, one local resident is looking to play hardball,
recently sending a letter to Campbell requesting a review of their case for
an export permit. With Exide’s litany of environmental sins a highly
sensitive topic across the Tasman and DEH’s own bureaucrats against them, how
did the Melbourne-based company get such influence with our
hardline Environment Minister?

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW