EPA poised to chase Chatham Rock for unpaid fees
The Environmental Protection Authority is within a fortnight of filing court papers to pursue would-be seabed miner Chatham Rock Phosphate over $795,000 of unpaid marine resource consent application fees.
The environmental regulator's chief executive, Allan Freeth, told Parliament's environment and local government select committee that affidavits would be filed next week or the week after, with court hearings set for the first week of March.
The authority was granted summary judgment on the outstanding fees, which CRP has challenged as "unreasonable and unlawful." EPA invoices for the hearings totalled $2.66 million, of which $1.86 million has been paid.
An EPA-appointed decision-making committee last year turned down CRP's application to mine phosphate nodules on a remote section of the Chatham Rise in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, the vast offshore area that has been subject to an environmental consenting regime only since 2012.
The EPA also turned down an application from Trans Tasman Resources to mine ironsands off the coast of Whanganui in 2014. The two applications are the only ones to have sought permission to mine the seabed in the EEZ.
The rejection of both is thought likely to discourage further such ventures, although Trans Tasman Resources is close to mounting a second bid and CRP is keeping its options open.
Mr Freeth told the select committee the authority was "very confident" that it would gain a favourable ruling.
EPA chairwoman Kerry Prendergast said one of the five-year-old agency's biggest budgetary challenges was the fact that it has no dedicated funding for EEZ applications, which also include resource consent processes for oil and gas explorers and producers.
While it had secured one-off funding increases of $2.7 million and $4 million in the past two financial years to cover those costs, the EPA was now making an "investment case" for consideration by the Treasury for permanent funding to meet the large but unpredictable costs of EEZ consent applications.
She acknowledged lower oil prices are likely to mean reduced EEZ activity by the oil and gas sector.