EEZ Bill more murky after hearings - law firm
BUSINESSDESK: Amendments to the controversial legislation regulating New Zealand's vast offshore exclusive economic zone is less clear about how to balance environmental and economic interests than before it went to public hearings, law firm Chapman Tripp says.
"The first draft of the bill provided that consent could be granted only where the economic development benefits from the proposed activity outweighed the adverse environmental effects,” it says.
"Where this criterion was not met, consent would be declined. This threshold has now been removed," the national law firm said in a note for clients.
Yet such a balancing act was "still the likely practical outcome" once the new legislation is in place, with the government "intending" it to be law by the end of this year, at which point the regulations which will determine how the law works will come into play.
The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill was reported back to the parliament last week, with the Labour, Green and New Zealand First parties rejecting its attempt to create a balance between environmental and economic considerations.
The opposition parties argue, as do many submitters on the original Bill, that New Zealand will fail to meet its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea if it allows the new regime to go ahead in its present form.
However, in a statement yesterday announcing a discussion document on EEZ regulations, Environment Minister Amy Adams said the legislation "is consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations".
Three types of activity are contemplated by the new law: permitted, discretionary and prohibited. The discussion document says majority of applications are expected to fall into the permitted category, including seismic surveys and oil and gas exploration.
No activities are proposed to be prohibited at this stage, although the law works on an "adaptive management" principle, which could allow changes to approved projects.
Consultation on the draft regulations ends on June 20.
At this stage, the rules are intended only to cover likely activities in the EEZ over the next five years. Included as discretionary are deep-sea oil and gas production, and seabed resource mining for such minerals as iron ore and phosphate.
The regulations will be interpreted by the Environmental Protection Authority, the newly formed national resource consenting body, with appeals to the courts available.
"Applications in the EEZ will likely have both adverse environmental effects and economic benefits that will need to be balanced by the EPA," Chapman Tripp says.
"The bill as now amended provides limited guidance on how these conflicts should be resolved.
"For applicants, the potential outcome of an application is less clear and it will be wait and see as to how the EPA exercises its broad discretion."
New Zealand’s ocean area is 20 times the size of its land mass and is one of the largest of any nation, in part because the country was instrumental in the framing of the original UNCLOS agreement, with which the EEZ Bill must be compliant.