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Penalties for Pollution

Doing something to harm the environment, whether deliberately or through carelessness, can carry heavy penalties. It is often cheaper to fix the problem than pay the fine, or avoid harming the environment in the first place. As well as the financial cost, a prosecution under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) can also cause a lot of damage to someone's personal or business reputation.

Depending on the nature of the offence, penalties under the RMA range from $300 (for a fairly minor offence) to $600,000. The fines are up to $300,000 for an individual and $600,000 for a corporation.  Continuing offences can get a penalty of $10,000 per day, or up to two years in jail.

Both the employee, contractors, managers, company and its agents can be liable for fines under Section 340 of the RMA.  It is everybody's duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate environmental effects from their activities.

There are four main forms of enforcement normally imposed against stormwater polluters under the RMA:

  • an abatement notice 
  • an environmental infringement notice 
  • an enforcement order 
  • prosecution

Environmental infringement notice

Environmental infringement notice issued by the Council is an instant fine for doing something that is damaging the environment.  Fines for water pollution are $750 or $1,000 depending whether it is from an individual or company.

Enforcement order

Can be applied for from the Environment Court by both councils and individuals. Enforcement orders tend to be used when the problem is ongoing and other measures haven't worked.  


The Council can prosecute you for polluting through the Environment Court.  If found guilty fines can range from $300 to $10,000 per day or up to two years in jail depending on the severity of the environmental effects and other details of the incident. 

Abatement notice

An abatement notice issued by the council, requires you to take some sort of action in order to avoid damaging the environment.  Abatement notices are used to deal with urgent problems.  They do not have fines attached to them, although an infringement notice can be issued at the same time.  

Last Reviewed: 25/07/2016