The Environmental Protection Authority’s hearings on a seabed mining application have “gone off the rails,” environmental groups Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Greenpeace have told the EPA.
The EPA has requested a wide range of new information from Trans Tasman Resources Ltd, the company applying to dig up 50 million tonnes of the South Taranaki Bight seabed each year for 35 years for an annual five million tonnes of iron ore for direct export.
However, the groups contend – in a memo sent to the EPA – that this information should have been part of the original application, which the EPA accepted as “complete” in September last year. Forest and Bird, and Ngati Ruanui have sent memos to the EPA supporting KASM’s views.
“This hearing has seriously gone off the rails,” the groups told the EPA, telling the Authority they are considering applying for a judicial review of the process, a declaratory statement, or an appeal based on the flawed process.
“It is demonstrably clear… that the [EPA] has embarked on an exercise of completing and, in effect, proving the Applicant’s case. This is an unlawful exercise of power which also significantly prejudices submitters in opposition to the application.”
“After accepting the original application as ‘complete,’ and after evidence from submitters, the caucusing of a wide range of experts, and recalling experts to give further evidence, the EPA has now turned around and asked the company for a whole lot of new information,” said Phil McCabe, KASM chairperson.
“We knew this information was missing and told the EPA back in September – it was one of the main reasons the EPA refused the company consent for its first application in 2014. Yet the EPA went ahead and accepted this deficient application – and are now requesting detail they should have asked for seven months ago.”
This new information may make the application look very different than it did at the beginning of the process, during the consultation and notification periods. It is requisite for major proposals such as this to have comprehensive and comprehensible information available when parties are deciding whether or not to engage and what areas require attention, energy and resources. To have a considerable amount of information put on the table at the end of the process means that opportunities for proper public engagement in the process have now been lost.
“As a volunteer-run community organisation KASM doesn’t have an open chequebook – this hearing has already cost us tens of thousands of dollars and huge amounts of time,” said McCabe. The fishing industry and Ngati Ruanui have also withdrawn from much of the hearing, citing excessive cost burdens.
Similar concerns were set out in a memo to the EPA by the fisheries submitters and the local Iwi, Ngati Ruanui, last month – a reaction to the EPA extending the hearing until May 31 to allow the company to complete new modelling around the “plume” of sediment that would be created in the South Taranaki Bight from the mining.
This is the latest in a number of very questionable procedural decisions by the EPA, including allowing the seabed mining company to redact some 190 pages of their application, which was subsequently overturned by the Environment Court in November after KASM and Greenpeace objected.