Govt's EEZ regime too weak - commissioner

Proposed legislation aimed at regulating economic activity such as deep sea drilling and seabed mining has been criticised by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Photo / TS
Proposed legislation aimed at regulating economic activity such as deep sea drilling and seabed mining has been criticised by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Photo / TS

The parliament's independent environmental watchdog says the Government's proposed law governing the vast ocean resources covered by New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone are too weak.

The report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, adds further pressure on the government to change the all-important "purpose" clause of the EEZ and Extended Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill.

Prime Minister John Key and Environment Minister Amy Adams have already indicated they are reconsidering the issue after intense lobbying and the issue of a public letter from a group of peak environmental organisations, including the Environmental Defence Society, WWF-New Zealand, Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and the Ecologic Foundation.

The bill passed its second reading in the parliament late last month and is due back in the House for its final reading on July 14, meaning a supplementary order paper will be required to make changes at this late stage.

Opposition parties support the change, as does the Government's coalition partner, the Maori Party. Environmental groups have been lobbying the members of the governing National Party's "blue-green" caucus, and the sole MP of the United Future party, Peter Dunne, on the issue.

At issue is the bill's reliance on the concept of balancing economic and environmental interests, rather than establishing environmental "bottom lines" beyond which economic activity would be prohibited.

Noting the legislation aims to protect New Zealand's exclusive economic zone by regulating economic activity such as deep sea drilling and seabed mining, Wright said "getting the purpose of the law right is hugely important if it is to effectively protect our ocean environment, especially as there is other legislation that provides economic balance".

"There are activities in the EEZ that offer great economic potential but they can be environmentally hazardous, which means it's vital to our environment and our ongoing economic security that we get this legislation right."

- BusinessDesk

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