A Comparison of Environmental Legislation and Regulation in New Zealand and the United States

Article excerpt

Introduction

In recent years, New Zealand has received increased international publicity, in part because of the success of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, which was filmed in New Zealand. The beautiful landscapes that appear in the film to be untouched by environmental degradation, drew special attention. Even before the recent publicity, New Zealand was perceived by many as being a nation that promoted environmental protection more than many other developed nations. In an announcement at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in January 2006 in Davos, Switzerland, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked New Zealand first out of 133 countries in the areas of health, biodiversity, energy, water, air, and natural resources, with the country earning 88 out of 100 possible points. The U.S. ranked 28th, with 78.5/100 points, behind many developed nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain and even behind some countries that may be considered to be developing, such as Malaysia and Columbia. The Pilot 2006 EPI study was conducted jointly by the Yale University Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Center of the European Commission (Yale University Environmental Performance Index, 2006.)

One travel Web site (www.gokiwihotels.com/trade) even promotes New Zealand as "a magic place where the air is clear and the water runs fresh and pure from the mountains to the sea" (Go Kiwi, 2005). This claim raises the question: How does New Zealand's environmental health compare with that in the United States? Is the air truly clearer and the water more fresh and pure? While the answer may ultimately be difficult to determine, this article will compare New Zealand's environmental legislation and regulations with those of the United States in an attempt to gain insight into the environmental policies and practices of both countries.

During the spring of 2004, author Tim Kelley was granted a William Evans Fellowship from the University of Otago to support travel to New Zealand during sabbatical from his duties as director of the Environmental Health Program in the Department of Health Sciences at Illinois State University (ISU). The purpose of his travel was to share his experiences in microbiological, chemical, and physical water quality issues related to wastewater management with academicians and environmental protection representatives in New Zealand. At the University of Otago School of Medicine and Health Sciences Ecology and Health Research Center, one of his primary fellowship hosts was then-director Dr. David Slaney, who is currently a senior scientist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, Ltd. Slaney co-authored this article.

Before Kelley traveled to New Zealand, the New Zealand (N.Z.) Ministry for the Environment (MfE) had identified onsite wastewater management as a primary potential area for this sharing opportunity. This area of study includes the treatment and disposal of wastewater generated in areas where a centralized collection, treatment, and disposal system is not available (e.g., rural areas without access to a sewer system and central wastewater treatment facility). During his visit, Kelley met with and discussed water quality issues with academic colleagues at the University of Otago, representatives of MfE and the Ministry of Health (MoH), the N.Z. Water Environment Research Foundation (NZWERF), and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, Ltd. (ESR). Through the information and insight provided by these discussions, he gained a better understanding of N.Z. environmental protection, especially with respect to water quality issues.

Kelley had, since 1997, served on the Illinois Private Sewage Disposal Commission, whose role is to make recommendations to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and he had taught the course Waste Management Practices for the ISU Environmental Health Program since 1999. …