Government buckles to green pressure, changes EEZ Bill
By Pattrick Smellie
Aug. 6 (BusinessDesk) - The government has stepped back from a key part of its pro-growth agenda, softening the purpose clause in the bill permitting economic development in New Zealand's vast Exclusive Economic Zone.
With the EEZ and Continental Shelf (Environmental Affects) Bill due back in Parliament for its final reading next week, Environment Minister Amy Adams has announced a major change to acknowledge the primacy of the environmental principle of sustainable development.
Speaking to the Environmental Defence Society annual conference in Auckland, Adams also announced changes that the oil and gas and offshore ironsands industries will welcome.
And in a nod to public concern after the oil spill from the wrecked container ship, the Rena, the government is punting the maximum fine for environmental damage in the EEZ from $600,000 to $10 million.
The EEZ bill's purpose clause saw an outbreak of intense lobbying from leading environmental groups led by the EDS, and criticism late last week from the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment, who said the purpose clause was "too weak".
At issue was a move away from "environmental bottom lines" to an older concept of "balance" between environmental and economic factors, which were seen as a bias to favour economic development.
The clause will be amended to incorporate concepts of "sustainable management" in the key Section 5 of the Resource Management Act, a move welcomed by EDS president Gary Taylor and as positive by Greens leader Russel Norman and Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson, who listened to the announcements.
“The concept of sustainable management is well defined in domestic legislation through more than 20 years of Resource Management Act case law," said Adams. "The proposed new wording in the Bill’s purpose makes it clear that the policy intent is for a similar broad judgment to be applied in the EEZ context.”
Elsewhere, the government's Supplementary Order Paper will clarify that "a transitional period for planned petroleum activities will cover the 2013/14 drilling season, and provide a maximum statutory timeframe of six months for a marine consent process.
Oil explorers made submissions expressing concern that the long time frames and high costs required to organise drilling partners and bringing rigs to New Zealand would be compromised by uncertainty over the near-term regulatory regime.
The changes will help ensure that activities spanning the 12 mile nautical limit, where the RMA applies, and the EEZ out to 200 km, where the new legislation will apply, Adams said.