Shifting sands: the uneven playing field in the battle for West Coast ironsands


This blog post was originally published at The Daily Blog

The Environmental Protection Authority is about to decide if large-scale seabed mining is to start off the North Island’s West Coast in a precedent-setting case, but the playing field has been tipped against the environment from the start.

Trans-Tasman Resources, the majority-owned offshore corporation wants to mine 50 million tonnes of seabed per annum to recover around 5 million tonnes of ironsand to export primarily to China. It is a massive world-first project involving numerous ships with real environmental impacts. Vacuuming up that quantity of seabed annually will destroy any organisms it comes in contact with and the 45 million tonne sediment plume released could reduce the ecosystem primary productivity of the area by 7% or more. The project application location is in Maui’s dolphin habitat and recent science indicates it is likely to be one of a handful of global blue whale foraging grounds.

It’s a classic extraction versus the environment question, and the Government has done everything it can to pick the extractive side.

The plucky volunteer organisation Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), has been leading the campaign to protect the environment and have been doing great on a shoestring budget. The Government has decided environmental legal aid should not be granted for groups dealing with applications like these in the Exclusive Economic Zone, putting them at a massive disadvantage. I submitted to the EPA last week and TTR had its three lawyers parked up the front yet KASM has had to rely on volunteers. Meanwhile the Government has been more than happy to dole out taxpayers’ money, between $12-25 million to TTR. It’s yet another example of mining companies receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies under National.

Today the EPA dumped a massive document with official’s proposed consent conditions yet the public only have 40 hours to digest this massive document and make comment. A rushed, inadequate process has been the theme throughout this application. Despite the largest number of submissions of any EPA application to date (and a massive 99.5% of them opposed) the law states the hearings can only last 40 days with a decision made within 20. A huge amount of information has been released yet there has been hardly any time to analyse it.  Critical information was uploaded late to the EPA website requiring an embarrassing submission extension by the EPA. Most worryingly the lead researcher who found the world’s largest whales used the area as a foraging ground was not permitted to submit nor underwater noise and marine mammals expert Dr Steve Dawson.

With 99.5% of submitters, iwi, fishers and the West Coast communities opposed it is deeply unfair that TTR, the mining company with Jenny Shipley as a director, gets all the public money, a fast-tracked process and an EPA that refuses to hear scientific experts in the interests of haste to harvest a public resource so that TTR can export the profits.

The richer future for New Zealand is in protecting our environment, the basis of our prosperity; not risking it with massive, experimental seabed mining delivering hardly any jobs for locals, a tiny 2% royalty rate, and the profits from a raw commodity exported offshore. My vision is for a true Environment Protection Authority not just an Empowering Pollution Authority.





3 Comments Posted

  1. Empowering Pollution authority is really living up its name. thanks, Gareth, for letting us know the dirty deeds of our govt.

  2. Surely even this government can’t still defend the ‘fast-track’ approach after the frequent denials of natural justice in these hearings? The good news is that the staff report is damning of the application. As the chair of KASM says, “if they grant consent we know that there are high level strings being pulled.”

  3. I care more about survival than “prosperity” or a “richer future”. When economics takes precedent over the environment, we can be sure that there is no future for our children. Sadly, that seems to be the default condition. Our oceans often bear the brunt of our greed.

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