Share burden of waterways cleanup, says Waikato economist

Wednesday, 10 June, 2009

Continuing uncertainty about just who will pay to clean up the Waikato’s waterways is hurting investment. That’s the view of environmental economist Professor Frank Scrimgeour, who’s also Dean of the University of Waikato Management School.

Scrimgeour will be giving a seminar on policy priorities and potential pitfalls in nitrogen pollution control in the Waikato as part of the university’s seminar series at the National Agricultural Fieldays this week.

The region’s current policy is unsustainable and coming under increasing pressure from the urban electorate, says Scrimgeour: “The challenge is to ensure efficient protection of water quality in the Waikato, which depends on agricultural practices, policy and implementation, and technological change among other factors.”

Good policy requires clarity about targets, he says, for both emissions and the associated environmental outcomes.

There also needs to be clarity around the policy instruments that can be used (these include education, rules, tax incentives, and tradeable rights) and who will pay.

Scrimgeour warns that placing too great a burden on one group will lead to increasing opposition to nitrogen pollution control. But he points out that farmers, ratepayers and taxpayers will need to bear the cost of the clean-up.

“Policies that create direct financial costs for polluters are a tool that can encourage changes in behaviour. But costs associated with new scientific and technological developments should be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers, rather than adding to the farmers’ burden,” Scrimgeour said.

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