The National Party announced it would decelerate moves towards a low-carbon economy because of the cost - but admitted the country had fallen short of its "100 per cent Pure" branding.
In a policy launch yesterday in Nelson, Environment Minister Nick Smith said he did not want to put a "straitjacket" on farmers by including them in the emissions trading scheme before practical tools to reduce emissions were available.
The policy launch yesterday proposed independent monitoring of the country's air, land and water, but Dr Smith denied this was an admission New Zealand was not fulfilling the image it was presenting.
He admitted that New Zealand had fallen short of "100 per cent Pure" branding - but only just.
"We need to acknowledge that we have challenges, like water quality ... and having that concrete data enables us internationally and domestically to ... verify those claims we make about New Zealand's clean, green brand."
To the suggestion that there was no wriggle room in the 100 per cent, Dr Smith said, "We're damn good.
"If you take the latest index that is produced internationally, they give us 99.1, that's pretty close. If I had a report card on 99.1, I'd be pretty happy."
He pointed out that monitoring of freshwater was inconsistent because regional councils measured water quality at different points in a waterway, at different intervals. A new Environment Reporting Act aimed to create single, transparent reports which ranked rivers from dirtiest to cleanest.
Statutory reporting would dovetail with the Fresh Start for Fresh Water programme which has committed $256 million to cleaning up lakes and rivers.
Prime Minister John Key emphasised NZ would not be a leader in carbon pricing, but would closely observe international movements and try to align its scheme with Australia.
Increased charges for the transport, electricity and industrial sectors under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will be delayed and farmers will be left out of the ETS until at least 2015.
The ETS proposal was slammed by the Labour Party and Green Party, which felt that it lumped costs on taxpayers while letting polluters off lightly. Labour's economic development spokesman, David Parker, said: "Agricultural emissions are half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions."
National's environment policy:
* Slow implementation of ETS, leave agriculture out until at least 2015.
* Introduce Environment Reporting Act for consistent monitoring of environment.
* Fund clean-up of lakes and rivers.
* Improve management of oceans.
* Create new register of contaminated sites and begin a nationwide recycling programme for old televisions.
* Encourage adoption of electric car technologies.