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Save Happy Valley: protect the climate and a unique wetland ecosystem.


FRANCES MOUNTIER of the Save Happy Valley Coalition reports on the campaign to stop coal mining in a unique sub-al pine wetland ecosystem, home to thirteen endangered species. The Coalition is selling carbon credits--an excellent investment!--after the state-owned mining company blamed the coalition for reducing its coal production from its opencast Stockton Mine. Solid Energy is a state-owned coal miner, producing over 4.5 million tonnes of coal annually, responsible for the same amount of emissions as all New Zealand's domestic transport emissions annually. Stopping the coal mining operation will help save the climate and endangered species.

Coal is the main threat to climate because there's not enough carbon in conventional oil or natural gas reserves to double the atmosphere's carbon dioxide. We can only double the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide through a considerable amount of coal-burning, which is what we seem to be headed toward doing.

Pierrehumbert, 2005:15 (1)

Happy Valley is located approximately 25km north-east of Westport in the Upper Waimangaroa Valley. Nearby Mt Augustus lies on the far side of the opencast Stockton Mine. In 1998 the Department of Conservation recommended Happy Valley as the primary Recommended Area for Protection (RAP) and Mt Augustus as the secondary RAP in the Ngakawau Ecological District. (2) However, protection for the two areas has not been forthcoming: the recommendations were removed after a private meeting between Department of Conservation staff and Solid Energy.

Happy Valley is a colourful mosaic of sub-alpine wetland, old growth beech forests, stunted forests of lush mountain beech and pygmy pine, and dense mats of intricate herbfield plants scattered over striking sandstone rocks and bluffs. It's a nationally significant ecosystem and home to thirteen endangered endemic species, including the absolutely protected landsnail Powelliphanta patrickensis and great spotted kiwi/roa. South Island kaka, western weka, long-tailed bat, and South Island fern bird are also present in the valley. The area, public land, located 600-800 metres above sea level, is largely untouched, low in pest numbers, and of high conservation value. Solid Energy's own expert witness called it a natural refuge for kiwi.

Opposition to 'Cypress'

Buller Conservation Group (BCG), Greenpeace, Department of Conservation, Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae, Ngakawau Riverwatch, Green Party, Forest and Bird, and Environmental and Conservation Organizations of New Zealand all actively opposed Solid Energy's proposal for a new mine, ('Cypress') in Happy Valley. In April 2004, the Save Happy Valley Coalition (sHVC) was formed to focus on non-violent direct action and raise public awareness. Solid Energy's resource consents were appealed at the Environment Court by Doc, Ngakawau River Watch, Forest and Bird and BCG. Ngakawau Riverwatch sought strict conditions on water standards and settled outside of court. DO C, to the dismay of conservationists, also settled outside of Court. Not only did this remove an important part of opposition to the mine, it also legitimised the destruction and removed the expertise advice of state-funded scientists from the public record.

Ngati Waewae, tangata whenua, said in their submission: "nobody denies a huge debt to Papatuanuku and her children has been incurred due to coal mining and the development of an over-arching plan to begin to right this injustice is appreciated by the tangata whenua and can't come soon enough." (7)

The Happy Valley Environment Court case was lost in May 2005 when Solid Energy made a last minute promise, during the summing up of the case, to 'direct transfer' 12 ha of red tussock wetland. Prominent ecologist Professor Alan Mark declared this unprecedented and not viable after a search of relevant scientific literature. Forest and Bird and BCG appealed to the High Court, but this was unsuccessful in December 2005, largely because the factual finding of the specialist Environment Court on the wetland transfer was unable to be challenged. Solid Energy indicated they intended to start work in Happy Valley in February or March 2006.

Solid Energy's track record

During court proceedings, those opposing the consents were not allowed to raise concerns regarding climate change, or Solid Energy's proposals for further mines down the Waimangaroa Valley in the coming 50 years, or their past environmental record. For example, the lower reaches of the Ngakawau River, long treated as an industrial ditch, are entirely devoid of aquatic life. Solid Energy has made no progress in reducing Acid Mine Drainage. The West Coast Regional Council recently found Solid Energy's level of environmental compliance at the Stockton Mine to be 'low, and water quality in the tributary of the Ngakauwau River that drains the mine "extremely poor." (8) Solid Energy have been unable to stop the spread of a fire in 1997 caused by their mining practices at Strongman No 2 mine near Greymouth. The fire now covers a 1000 ha radius and continues to cause damage to Doherty Creek.

Solid Energy: C[O.sub.2] emissions and credits!

Solid Energy produced 4.67 million tonnes of coal in 2006; 2.47 million tonnes of this was for export, and 2.20 million tonnes for domestic use. (9) This State enterprise is responsible annually for emissions approximately equivalent to all our domestic transport emissions in one year! As more than half that coal is exported, it involves a hidden climate change impact, not accounted for in official sources and thus evades our Kyoto obligations. A new mine in Happy Valley would result in emitting another 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

In the last financial year, Solid Energy ripped 4.65m tonnes of coal from the earth. The company recently said it was reducing production for the year by 250,000 tonnes, in part because of protests by Coalition members. So the Save Happy Valley Coalition is selling carbon credits for reducing coal production from its opencast Stockton Mine. This is great news for the climate! Solid Energy cant catch up that lost 250,000 tonnes of production, and 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide was prevented from reaching the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 170,000 New Zealand cars off the road for a year. Buy your carbon credits today and support the campaign to Save Happy Valley! Just $10 for 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide! These are credits that ensure active reductions in emissions, not offsetting using sinks. Now is the time to act on climate change. To buy your Save Happy Valley Coalition carbon credits, email your order and address to and deposit your money +$1 p&p to Save Happy Valley Campaign--38 9003 0334146 00.

Reductions needed

Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, with carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Each tonne of coal produces 2.4 tonnes of C[O.sub.2]. Impurities in coal add significantly to pollution when coal is burnt. For example, the Huntly power station produces up to 1100 tonnes of sulphur dioxide a year. In July 2006, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment called for no new coal or gas-fired power stations in Aotearoa. (10)

To combat climate change, a 60-90% reduction in emissions in the developed world is required by 2050. (11) This means we need to take action to reduce our emissions now, including reducing our reliance on coal. Business-as-usual is no longer an option. There needs to be a 'sea-change' in cultural values, with rapid development of climate-friendly technologies alongside dramatic cuts in energy consumption levels.' (12) These changes need to occur as part of a just transition to a low-carbon economy, with everyone sharing equitably the costs of moving away from fossil fuel dependence. This sea-change in cultural values is not consistent with the New Zealand's Government support for Solid Energy continuing to increase mining coal. Government should be directing Solid Energy to invest in diversifying and developing other industries on the West Coast, and paying for the clean-up of Stockton.


It's critical New Zealand moves away from coal production. Saving Happy Valley would be in keeping with government policy on sustainability and national and international opinion. Biodiversity loss and climate change are the greatest environmental threats facing our planet and societies; it's time we achieved some real change.

The occupation

SHVC began an indefinite occupation of Happy Valley on 28 January 2006 in an effort to halt the mines development. Two years later, the occupation continues and the valley remains untouched. Check out for more information; to join us contact our occupation coordinator on or 0212037040. Since February 2007, the Coalition has also occupied Mt Augustus as part of a long running campaign to prevent the extinction of Powelliphanta Augustus'; Solid Energy are currently mining 94% of remaining habitat of this critically-endangered species. Come and celebrate our second successful year of occupying Happy Valley, on 2-3 February 2008.


(1.) R.T. Pierrehumbert, 2005, Climate Change: A Catastrophe in Slow Motion, Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago since 1989. From, p. 15.

(2.) Overmars, F et al (1998) Ngakawau Ecological District Survey Report for Protected Natural Areas Programme, Department of Conservation

(3.) Clark, H., 2007, Prime Minister's Statement to Parliament 13/02/07, Retrieved 11/04/07 from

(4.) Solid Energy, 2006, Proposed Cypress Opencast Mine, Retrieved 11/04/07 from

(5.) Helen Clark, 29/3/00, Government pledges end to native species extinctions, Retrieved 3/4/07 from http://www.biodiversity.govt.nzlnews/media/archive/ 29maroo_launch.html

(6.) Save Happy Valley Coalition Incorporated v Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd [2006] (EnvC), para 46 and 51.

(7.) Resource Consent hearings: Rick Barber (Land and Environment Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae)

(8.) West Coast Regional Council, Jan-Dec 2006, Staff Annual Compliance Monitoring Report of Solid Energy Mining Activities on the West Coast, 2006

(9.) Solid Energy, 2006, Annual Report, Retrieved 11/4/07 from

(10.) Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Electricity, Energy and the Environment: Making the connections, Retrieved 11/04.07 from

(11.) Rising tide, 2004, Why 90% cuts in greenhouse gases, Retrieved 3/04/07 from

(12.) Transnational Institute, 2007, The Carbon Neutral Myth, Retrieved 3/04/07 from, p. 8.

* Frances Mountier is a leader and convener of the Save Happy Valley Coalition, PO Box 9263, Te Aro, Wellington, For more information. To get involved in the campaign, please contact:;


New Zealand needs to go the extra [The] national biodiversity
mile to lower greenhouse gas strategy [is] aimed at ending the
emissions and increase extinctions of native species.
sustainability ... New Zealand has "The primary goal is to maintain
the potential to lead the world in and restore a full range of New
its commitment to renewable Zealand's habitats and ecosystems,
energy. Helen Clark, 13 February along with populations of all
2007. (3) native species across their
 natural ranges. This is the bottom
 line nationally if we are to
 prevent further decline in our
 indigenous biodiversity." (Helen
 Clark, 29 March 2000. (5))


Solid Energy NZ Ltd is a Powelliphanta 'Augustus' is a
state-owned enterprise, which small, isolated population at risk
operates as a commercial company from catastrophic events. A
but with only one shareholder, the catastrophic event has now arrived
NZ Government. Solid Energy in the form of Solid Energy's
expects to start developing the bulldozers which will destroy much
new mine [in Happy Valley] in of the snail's known habitat. (6)
2006. About five million tonnes of
coal will be progressively mined
at Cypress over approximately 10
years in two opencast pits
covering 105 hectares. A further
155 hectares will be used for
overburden disposal, roads, water
treatment, facilities and
associated infrastructure. (Solid
Energy's website. (4))
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Title Annotation:SUSTAINABLE PATHWAYS; Save Happy Valley Coalition campaigns for wetland conservation
Author:Mountier, Frances
Publication:Pacific Ecologist
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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