Green groups in last ditch effort to change new EEZ law
Green groups are mounting a last ditch attempt to modify new legislation governing New Zealand's ocean resources in the vast Exclusive Economic Zone to protect the marine environment from carte blanche offshore oil, gas and mining exploration.
The bid comes from moderate green groups, led by the Environmental Defence Society, along with the New Zealand Forest & Bird Protection Society, WWF-New Zealand and the Ecologic Society, whose director Guy Salmon has been a key figure in government-led environmental policy development.
They issued an open letter to Environment Minister Amy Adams calling for changes.
"We believe that the purpose as worded is certain to lead to the degradation of
the marine environment," the letter says. "It is also likely to lead to extensive litigation and uncertainty for industry looking to invest in offshore exploration."
The EEZ and Continental Shelf (Environment Effects) Bill passed its second reading in Parliament last night, and is due to return to the House on July 14, presenting a last opportunity for amendments.
EDS chairman Gary Taylor told BusinessDesk the issue was the latest in a series of environmental policy developments which suggest the government is taking an increasingly pro-business stance since the departure of former Environment Minister Nick Smith.
"The scales are being tipped on land and in the oceans more towards developmental interests and away from environmental bottom lines," said Taylor, referring also to recent advisory group recommendations on changes to the Resource Management Act which would enshrine a focus on "balance" between economic and environmental interests.
The RMA currently favours environmental bottom lines, beyond which development should not occur.
"Without an environmental bottom line, that trade off will always lead to more and more environmental loss. Our argument is that we need to establish what we want to protect first, then having done that we can let the market generally rip," said Taylor.
However, if the EEZ bill was not changed to reflect the groups' concerns, they would be forced to "the Greenpeace position" of total opposition to the bill, rather than their nuanced support for offshore oil, gas and mineral development.
"The Bill as drafted will not protect our precious oceans environment and amounts to little more than greenwash," Taylor said. "We are not opposed to economic development in our EEZ provided we have in place environmental legislation that will properly manage the environmental effects and risks
associated with those activities, especially in our deep oceans."
The eleventh hour bid comes as Greenpeace prepares to deliver a 140,000 signature petition to Parliament next Tuesday opposing all deep sea oil and gas exploration.
However, the government appears to be leaving the door ajar for last minute changes to the bill.
In answer to the question of whether there would be Supplementary Order Papers introduced to Parliament to amend the existing purpose clause of the EEZ bill - the groups' biggest concern - spokesman for Environment Minister Amy Adams said: "A decision has not been made yet."
In the meantime, the environmental groups are pressing the Maori and United Future parties to support changes to the EEZ bill, lobbying members of the National Party caucus's Blue-Green group including Nick Smith, and ensuring the support from the Labour and Green parties.
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