The Greens have lashed out at the Government's new Environmental Protection Agency which will regulate deep sea oil and gas exploration as nothing more than a cover for environmentally destructive economic policy.
Environment Minister Nick Smith yesterday said new environmental protection laws dealing with New Zealand's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) - much of which is earmarked for oil exploration - will come into effect in July next year.
Dr Smith's announcement comes weeks after the Navy and Police arrested protesters who were disrupting Brazilian company Petrobras' exploration activity in the Raukumara basin which lies within the EEZ off East Cape.
The legislation will make the newly established Environmental Protection Authority responsible for issuing consents, monitoring and enforcement of activities within the EEZ which lies from 12km to 200km offshore and the Extended Continental Shelf, which lies beyond that.
"This area of ocean, 20 times New Zealand's land area offers significant economic opportunities, but we must also ensure we have robust laws in place to protect the environment," said Dr Smith.
The EPA begins full operation next month and will process resource consent applications for nationally significant projects such as oil rigs and power stations. It will also administer greenhouse emissions units under the Emissions Trading Scheme.
But Greens co-leader Russel Norman yesterday dismissed the EPA as a "Claytons regulator".
"It's the protection you have when you're not really having protection."
Dr Norman said the legislation which allowed for the establishment of the authority "had nothing in there" about environmental protection.
"It's mainly being used to fast track roading projects... now it's going to have the job of fast tracking deep sea mining."
Dr Smith yesterday announced appointments to the authority's board including former managing director of road building giant Fulton Hogan David Faulkner, former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast and former Security Intelligence Service chief executive Richard Woods.
Dr Norman said it was clear from those appointments that the EPA's focus was more about facilitating growth.
"You haven't got a bunch of environmental specialists there, it's been set up to enable short term economic development under the pretence of environmental protection. It is a totally dishonest process."