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New environment agency to control oil exploration

Thursday 3rd June 2010

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The government is moving to create environmental regulations governing offshore oil exploration in New Zealand's massively expanded exclusive economic zone.

It is proposing to make the new Environmental Protection Authority responsible, Environment Minister Nick Smith announced today.

The decision was included in an announcement that the EPA will be an independent, stand-alone agency, separated from the Ministry for the Environment, which will become responsible only for policy development.

The move was welcomed by the Environmental Defence Society.

"We support an expanded role for the EPA in the EEZ," said executive director Gary Taylor. "It is important that there is a clear separation between issuing rights to explore for oil and giving environmental approvals. Events in the Gulf of Mexico have shown the danger of getting this wrong. "EDS argues that the RMA, which governs the marine environment out to the 12 nautical mile limit, should be extended to the 200 nautical mile limit. The EPA would effectively be the regional council for the 12-200 mile zone given the national significance of the area." 

On that subject, Smith said: "Further work is being done by the Environment and Economic Development Ministries on strengthening the regulatory environment in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone that falls outside the jurisdiction of the Resource Management Act."

The EPA will be established as a Crown Agent, with the Board accountable to the Minister for the Environment and will be responsible for the regulatory functions of national consenting under the RMA; the Ozone Protection Act; the Climate Change Response Act that administers the Emissions Trading Scheme; various international hazardous waste treaties; the Antarctica (Environmental Protection) Act; as well as the proposed inclusion of responsibility for the EEZ.

"These changes provide a strengthened framework of an Environment Ministry focused on policy, an Environmental Protection Authority responsible for efficient regulation and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment as an independent auditor," said Smith.

The agency will also take over the activity of the Environmental Risk Management Authority and fold in some activity currently managed by the Ministry of Economic Development, for a total staff of around 140.

A transitional EPA was established last year to consider resource consent applications on projects of national significance.  It is now considering several electricity projects and the Waterview motorway extension in Auckland.  Costs associated with those applications have been budgeted at $16.8 million in the year ahead, while existing funding of $26.2 million will be further transferred to the new EPA in 2011/12.

Legislation will be introduced later this year to start operations from 1 July 2011.

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