Ironsands miner TransTasman ‘staggered’ by Environmental Protection Authority’s critical report
By Pattrick Smellie
May 8 (BusinessDesk) – TransTasman Resources has urged a five-person decision-making committee considering its application to mine ironsands off the southern Taranaki coast to ignore a report prepared on the application by staff at the Environmental Protection Authority.
In final submissions on TTR’s application for a marine consent to dredge iron ore from sand in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the company’s legal counsel, Hugh Rennie, says the EPA staff report “is of little assistance to the DMC in deciding the matters which for the present consent application.”
“We submit the evidence of the experts should be preferred over the unsubstantiated and unwarranted opinions of EPA staff,” he said in final submissions to the DMC, which run to more than 100 pages.
TTR was “staggered” at the EPA staff report expressing concerns about “a large amount of uncertainty” surrounding the impacts of mining on the benthic ecology and wondered “if those who wrote it (and those have joined in the report) were actually present and listening during the hearing.”
The EPA staff report was prepared as a non-binding guide for the DMC after almost two months of hearings and expert witness conferences around the North Island in the last two months on the first application for offshore mining ever considered in New Zealand.
Issued earlier this week, the report broadly sided with opponents of the mining project, who argue there are too many uncertainties about environmental impacts to allow a marine consent to be granted.
While EPA staff suggested a means by which consent could potentially be granted, the regulator’s staff agreed “that, notwithstanding the further information provided in response to the EPA’s requests, the application continues to leave uncertainty about the effects the proposed activities might have on the environment.”
“A lack of information in some areas has meant we have been unable to develop conditions that are measurable and enforceable in those areas,” the staff report said. “In particular, we have been unable to develop environmental performance objectives to guide an adaptive management approach.”
However, TTR’s final submissions charge that the EPA staff report “provided no references or explanation as to why it considers there is ‘a large amount of uncertainty surrounding the effects of the TTR application on benthic ecology” and said the EPA appeared to “struggle” with the concept of adaptive management.
“They have not … made any reference to expert evidence to support their conclusions.”
TTR believes the mining operation would deliver economic benefits of around $50 million annually to New Zealand, while mining in a 65 square kilometre area some 22 to 36 kilometres off the coast of Patea.
Rennie described as “unexpected and astonishing” a recommendation on discharge regimes for dissolved metals that were “simply not achievable” and at odds with the conclusions of expert witnesses.
“Simply put, it is so unreasonable that no reasonable planning authority would impose it,” he said. “This proposal is not supported or substantiated by any expert evidence. In fact, the experts all stated the opposite.”
Other proposals were “completely impractical and excessive”, given the conclusions of expert witnesses, and could lead to opponents trying to relitigate consents after their granting.
“We cannot reconcile the (EPA staff report) recommendations with the evidence, including as summarised by the EPA itself. Most of the recommendations are in conflict with the experts’ findings.
“An anonymous relitigation of such matters without opportunity for cross examination or providing expert qualifications is not ‘advice’, nor is it of utility in decision-making,” the submission says.
A decision on the application is due in the next 20 days.