Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Democracy in the face of disagreement: Environmentalist opposition to Escarpment Mine on the Denniston Plateau

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posted on 2021-11-13, 20:23 authored by Fougère, Lillian

Despite New Zealand’s Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) being lauded as offering democratic decision-making processes, those in opposition to consent applications often feel their input has minimal influence on the decisions made. This research explores how democracy is actualised or constrained through environmentalist opposition to decisions made about coal-mining on conservation land, including both informal and formal participation.  Escarpment Mine is a proposal for an open cast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau on the West Coast of New Zealand. The mine was granted resource consents in 2011 by the two local councils. Environmental activists engaged with these decisions through the formal council led submission process, a requirement under the RMA, and informally through activism, protest and campaigning. Their opposition was founded on concerns about the mine’s effects on conservation and climate change.  Drawing on theories of deliberative democracy and radical democracy, I create a framework for democracy that includes agonism and antagonism, situated within the overarching democratic principles of equality, justice and the rule of the people. Through interviewing environmentalists opposed to Escarpment Mine and the council officials involved, my research discusses the way environmentalists were constrained from participating meaningfully in the formal process due to perceived bias and the privileging of neoliberal discourses. I suggest that this case reflects a lack of agonism in most areas, and a delegitimising of antagonistic activism despite such activism working towards equality and justice. Thus, the case does not fulfil the democratic ideals of working with disagreement.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

960799 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards not elsewhere classified

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Bond, Sophie