The mining industry lobbyist, Straterra, is calling for improved administration of New Zealand's environmental and minerals regulations and wants the low-impact activities of mineral prospecting and exploration made automatically permissible.
However, Straterra is less convinced that major reforms to the Resource Management Act's balance between environmental and economic influences will improve the lengthy and complex processes currently facing many mining projects to obtain resource consents.
In its 24 page report, released at Parliament yesterday evening, the group calls for investment in aerial mapping of the whole of New Zealand to improve understanding of its geophysical properties and mineral potential.
The exercise could cost around $70 million and be undertaken over a five year period to spread the cost.
Straterra also calls for an overhaul of the way the Conservation Act manages access for miners to conservation land and replacement of the Historic Places Act with new legislation to deal better with "modifying archaeological sites and heritage."
Mostly, it calls for what it says should be a better informed public debate on the role and benefits of mining, and an improvement in the way New Zealand's mining regulations are administered.
"New Zealand scores the lowest among Australasian jurisdictions for administration of natural resources and rights to minerals exploration, despite scoring the highest for policy design."
On the proposed changes to Sections 6 and 7 of the RMA, dealing with the principles in the Act, Straterra says the proposal "has positives but may be outweighed by the negatives."
"We foresee litigation to interpret the new provisions, noting that the current provisions, while less than ideal, do have workable case law."
Environment Minister Amy Adams is running out of time to find parliamentary support before the Sept. 20 general election to make the changes, which the government regards as a centrepiece of other, more widely supported reforms to streamline RMA processes.
The prolonged process for the Bathurst Resources open-cast coking coal mine on the Denniston Plateau "argues convincingly for heavily restricted, truncated or streamlined appeal processes," Straterra says.
However, in a separate statement yesterday, the Environmental Defence Society said the first application for seabed mining - for ironsands in the South Taranaki Bight - was throwing up major process issues.
"Of particular concern is the hearing being limited to 40 working days and the decision having to be released within 20 working days of the hearing being completed," said EDS president Gary Taylor. "This leaves little time for expert conferencing or for ensuring that detailed matters (such as potential conditions) are well constructed."
In its submission, Straterra expresses concern that "applicants may have to apply twice for approval to return sediment to the seafloor under 'non-notified marine consents' and standard 'marine consents'."
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