Responding to environmental incidents

If an incident or consent non-compliance involves a potentially serious environmental incident or offence, a Resource Management Officer will make a site visit. Our first priority, is the safety of our officers, followed by minimising any adverse effect, and then investigating the incident.

The Resource Management Act's (RMA) monitoring and compliance section can call upon expertise from other Environment Canterbury technical staff (scientists, engineers), city and district council staff, and external consultants as the situation demands.

Breaching RMA requirements

Breaching the requirements of the RMA can amount to serious criminal offending and matters are heard in the District Court. 

Following amendments to the RMA, a conviction can now lead to imprisonment for up to two years and fines of up to $300,000 for an individual, or $600,000 for a company.

In keeping with the seriousness of the penalties, the RMA's monitoring and compliance section has adopted appropriate investigative practices carried out to police standards, such as scene examination, evidence gathering, record keeping, file management, chain of custody for samples and evidence, and cautioning subjects before interviews for all serious environmental incidents. 

All activities are undertaken in accordance with Environment Canterbury's Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement Guidelines (PDF File, 814.42KB), and decision making is carried out in accordance with the Environment Canterbury Enforcement Policy (PDF File, 283.89KB).

Before a final decision on formal enforcement action is made, any recommendation is reviewed for consistency, reasonableness and fairness through an internal enforcement decision panel.

An Environment Canterbury lawyer will then review the available evidence and advise whether there is a prima facie case. Prosecution cases are reviewed by Crown lawyers.

What happens if I breach a condition? 

If you have breached the conditions of your consent you may receive one of the following (definitions follow):

  • Notice of non-compliance
  • Letter of formal warning
  • Cost recovery
  • Requesting an application for a retrospective resource consent
  • Abatement notice
  • Infringement notice
  • An enforcement order from the Environment Court
  • Alternative Environmental Justice (AEJ)
  • Prosecution

Formal enforcement decisions are made after assessing the facts of each case under four criteria:

  • Culpability of the alleged offender
  • Degree of the adverse effect on the environment
  • Significance of the incident to the community (public interest)
  • Previous history of non-compliance or offending

Types of enforcement

Below you can find information about the different types of enforcement we apply to environmental incidents. 

Formal warning

Written warnings, instructions in compliance monitoring reports, notices of non-compliance and retrospective consents are useful when an offence is minor and the individual or company is a first-time offender.

These inform the offender of the consequences of breaching the RMA and often is enough to deter any repeat offending, eliminating the need for more formal enforcement action.

Most incidents and non-compliance can be resolved using these enforcement tools.

Abatement notice

An abatement notice is a formal written notice that the RMA specifies can be issued only by a warranted enforcement officer. It requires certain actions to be taken or to cease within a specified time where that enforcement officer believes on reasonable grounds (on the balance of probabilities) that there is or is likely to be a contravention of the RMA and/or an adverse effect on the environment.

Infringement notice

An infringement notice is a written notice of an alleged infringement offence under the RMA, which is issued in accordance with the Summary Proceedings Act.

It requires the payment of a fee of an amount fixed by regulations. Payment of the fine does not lead to the recording of a criminal conviction.

Infringement notices are suitable for responding quickly to relatively moderate offences that do not warrant prosecution.

All offenders who receive infringement notices are published on our website for 12 months.

Enforcement order

An enforcement order is an order made by the Environment Court that may require, in the opinion of the Court, certain actions to be taken or ceased, or money to be paid, within a specified time.

An application can be made by any person to the Environment Court to issue an enforcement order and it is that Court which identifies the matters of which must be satisfied before issuing the notice.

Breaching an enforcement order issued by the Court is in itself an offence for which you may be prosecuted.

Interim enforcement order

An interim enforcement order is like an enforcement order and is used in circumstances where the need for the order is urgent.

Search warrants

Where Environment Canterbury has knowledge of a serious offence against the Act and intends to gather evidence which could result in punitive action, the legislation requires that a search warrant must be obtained.

We can apply to a registrar of the court when we believe, on reasonable grounds, that there is some item at a certain address or in a vehicle or any place, which:

  • In respect of which an offence punishable by imprisonment has been or is suspected of having been committed; and/or
  • Will be evidence of an offence punishable by imprisonment; and/or
  • Is intended to be used for the purposes of committing an offence punishable by imprisonment.

Environment Canterbury undertakes prosecutions where there has been a significant contravention of the RMA. The fundamental objectives of a prosecution are to punish those involved; to act as a deterrent to other resource users; to protect the community and environment; and, to provide justice to the victims of the offending.

There are four essential conditions to be met before starting a prosecution action:

  • That there is enough evidence to establish a prima facie case
  • That it is considered to be in the public interest
  • That the environmental effect of the breach warrants court action
  • The culpability of the offender.

Environment Canterbury also takes into consideration the party’s previous environmental history of compliance.

Alternative Environmental Justice

Environment Canterbury has developed an Alternative Environmental Justice (AEJ) scheme which it applies to those incidents which are considered to be beyond the criteria of an infringement notice but fall short of the threshold for prosecution.

The scheme criteria are considered by officers in relevant situations but can also be applied for by the party being investigated. In effect, the AEJ scheme aims to resolve environmental offending in an alternative forum that supplements the District Court, in a manner that allows the offender to put right the harm caused by their offending. 

All activities are undertaken in accordance with Environment Canterbury's Compliance and Enforcement Guidelines (PDF File, 814.42KB), and Guidelines for implementing Alternative Environmental Justice (PDF File, 283.89KB).