The Government has resisted lobbying by mining companies who wanted environmental laws to be relaxed after their bids to mine New Zealand's seabed were rejected.

But under new planning reforms, ministers will take over responsibility for the committees which ruled on mining consents in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The mining industry had sought changes to legislation governing New Zealand's massive EEZ after the only two companies to apply for consent in this area had their applications rejected on environmental grounds.

In its current form, the legislation governing the EEZ requires the Environment Protection Agency's decision-making committees (DMCs) to favour caution when it came to consents which could harm the environment.


This legislation will be amended as part of planning reforms outlined by the Government yesterday.

But Environment Minister Nick Smith said the changes would not go as far as the mining industry had wanted.

"There was a lobby from the minerals sector to change the legal thresholds of precaution in respect of seabed mining and petroleum development in the EEZ," he told the Herald.

"The Government has declined to make changes in that area."

However, the reforms would transfer the responsibility for appointing the DMCs from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Minister for the Environment.

This brought the EEZ regime into line with planning decisions on land and in New Zealand's territorial seas (out to 12 nautical miles), where Government-appointed boards of inquiry make rulings on consents.

Dr Smith said it made no sense to have two different regimes for different parts of New Zealand's seas.

Greenpeace revealed earlier this month that the policy change around DMCs was being considered.

Executive director Russel Norman said at the time: "It's like being able to choose one of your friends to mark your exam paper rather than having someone independent do it."

Chatham Rock Phosphate had its application to mine off the coast of Canterbury rejected in February, and Trans Tasman Resources had its bid to mine iron sands off the North Island's north west coast rejected last year.

Chatham Rock said at the time it was "aghast" at the decision.