A bill that aims to reinforce the role of the Government's environmental protection agency could result in a bias against mining and oil drilling applications, an energy company says.

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri's private member's bill would make sure that protecting, maintaining and enhancing the environment was explicitly stated as one of the Environmental Protection Authority's goals.

It passed its first reading after the crucial backing of United Future and the Maori Party, as well as Labour, Greens, and New Zealand First.

Today at select committee the amendment received strong backing from environmental groups, including Sea Shepherd and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand.


However, Catherine Ongley, associate general counsel for Todd Energy, said the company - which has interests in petroleum exploration and mining - opposed the amendment, because it would introduce "irreconcilable conflict" with respect to the EPA's functions.

"Todd is supportive of sound environmental stewardship...but it [the amendment] would amount to a fundamental change in the EPA's current mandate.

"Not withstanding the authority's name, the EPA does not currently have an overriding environmental protection mandate, that belongs to the Department of Conservation."

Ms Ongley said it was Parliament's intent that this be the case, because the EPA has decision-making and advisory powers, including on consents for resource and infrastructure development.

Passage of the Bill could result in a bias against such consent applications.

"We would expect and accept this type of bias in respect of projects within conservation estates, but not within areas that are ostensibly open to development, subject to any constrains necessary for sustainability and to protect the environment."

The view was not supported by Anton van Helden, an advocate from the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of NZ.

He told the committee that the society strongly supported the amendment.

That was because it would remove ambiguity and increase clarity by making the EPA's role more explicit.

On the argument that the change would add complexity, Mr Van Helden said a number of laws that the EPA has to administer already have explicit environmental protection purposes.

"We think therefore the EPA itself should be clear about that in its overall purpose."

National MP Paul Foster-Bell questioned why "enhancing" the environment should be explicitly stated as one of the EPA's goals.

"It is not the Environmental Enhancement Authority, is it?"

Mr Van Helden said doing nothing to enhance the environment would lead to degradation, so it was right that the enhancement wording was correct to include.