UPDATED: Environmental Defence Society to oppose ironsands mining appeal
UPDATED: The Environmental Defence Society says it will join the High Court appeal being pursued by would-be ocean floor ironsands miner TransTasman Resources, which will challenge the rejection of its plans by a decision-making committee of the Environmental Protection Authority.
EDS, a peak environmental lobby group, expressed surprise at the appeal, warning TTR could be "throwing good money after bad" if it believed it could appeal on points of law the factual findings of the committee, which found the company's case for dredging ironsands in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the coast of Patea lacked sufficient certainty about its environmental impacts and had not sufficiently consulted all affected stakeholders.
“The EPA’s Decision-Making Committee (DMC) agreed with EDS (and other submitters) that TTR’s case was underdone and uncertainties of the effects on the environment and existing interests meant it was required to favour caution and environmental protection," said EDS executive director Gary Taylor said in a statement. "It also decided that the proposed adaptive management approach was not sufficiently certain or robust to give ‘the degree of confidence’ needed to be able to grant consent."
"The DMC made clear findings of fact regarding the uncertainties and inadequacies of the information available. Those findings are not capable of challenge on appeal. The EEZ Act is clear in its requirement for caution and environmental protection to be favoured in the face of uncertain or inadequate information."
The company would "be better off doing the additional work needed to bring the project up to standard," he said. “Nevertheless, this will be an important test case as it will set binding High Court law on how the EEZ Act is to be applied."
TTR chief executive Tim Crossley told BusinessDesk yesterday the company was in the throes of reorganising itself for an uncertain process that could lead to a full or partial rehearing, if the appeal succeeded, or to a decision on whether to mount a completely new marine consent application under the new regime governing EEZ economic activity.
TTR is the first company to have tested the new regulatory framework. Crossley said the company had expected the hearing process to allow room for a negotiated approach to "adaptive management", and had been surprised by a "binary" approach in which only an approval or rejection of the whole project was possible.
EARLIER: Seabed ironsands miner to appeal resource consent knockback
TransTasman Resources , the company seeking to mine ironsands off the ocean floor in the Exclusive Economic Zone, will appeal the rejection of its marine consent application by the decision-making committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority.
TTR is the first company to seek a marine consent under new legislation governing economic activity in New Zealand's vast EEZ, which extends from the 12 mile nautical limit out to 200 kilometres from the coastline and had applied under the new, six-month process to dredge up to 50 million tonnes annually of sand rich in titano-magnetite, a type of iron ore, for export to Asian steel mills.
The EPA-appointed committee rejected the application late last month, saying the environmental effects were not well enough understood, stakeholder consultation had been inadequate, and questioning the commercial viability of the project, which TTR has spent six years and $70 million investigating ahead of an investment of more than $500 million, should it have got the go-ahead.
"We have made a decision to appeal," TTR chief executive Tim Crossley told BusinessDesk. "We do think there are strong grounds. The basis of an appeal can only be on points of law, but we think there are strong grounds on certain points."
Crossley declined to elaborate on the issues the appeal would focus on, but the TTR board continued to believe it was "a great project for New Zealand, albeit it's a costly road forward" on what he said was a "very uncertain period."
"The outcome of an appeal could fall a number of ways. It could set aside the current decision and you go to a rehearing, which could be completely new, or a partial hearing," he said.
Crossley said he was focusing now on who the company both needed and could afford to fund while the appeal process occurred.
Talks with a major investor, which had been ready to invest in the event of a successful consent application, were also continuing.
"We were in advanced negotiations with a potential strategic investor, which would been conditional on a successful EPA decision. The decision no doubt has dented confidence not just in our project but in any project, and it has dented confidence if you are an existing investor to see your way through an appeal and whatever else might be in front of you."
"That being said, the investors we have are supportive enough to believe there's enough merit to go for an appeal."
TTR has backing from a range of local, Australian and American investors.
While reluctant to pass comment on the new EPA process for EEZ marine applications, Crossley said the company's biggest surprise had been the "binary" nature of the process. In Australia, his experience had been that consent applications were a forum for negotiating mutually acceptable outcomes that allowed a project to proceed while meeting environmental concerns "as opposed to an on-off switch."
Having been granted a mining permit, TTR had assumed the process would be "giving effect to that while protecting the environment."
Watching the process carefully is Chatham Rock Phosphate, whose application for an EEZ marine consent to mine phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise, some 400 kilometres east of Christchurch, is currently lodged with the EPA and open for public submissions.