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Seabed mining fight's not over: a potential ban, and back to the EPA

Updated: May 5, 2023

By Cindy Baxter, KASM chair May 2023 is shaping up to be a busy month on the seabed mining front in Aotearoa, with a bill before Parliament, and the beginning of the next round of our fight with Trans Tasman Resources over their endless effort to mine in the South Taranaki Bight.

Ban seabed mining bill On 10 May, Te Pāti Māori MP, Ngati Ruanui's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer will present her bill proposing a ban on seabed mining to Parliament. KASM and Greenpeace delivered a

35,000-strong petition to Parliament calling for a ban on seabed mining in our waters last June and we will be in the house gallery next week, in solidarity with Debbie and other ocean loving MP’s, and alongside a contingent from Ngati Ruanui.

Ngati Ruanui protesting seabed mining at Parliament, 2016.

[UPDATE 5 MAY: Environment Minister David Parker has now ruled out government support, instead setting up a Select Committee Inquiry into seabed mining. See our response here ]

If this bill succeeds, and is passed into legislation, it would see New Zealand finally aligning its international stance on seabed mining, where we support a global moratorium, with our domestic policies. It would make no sense for us to have one stance internationally, and an opposing position at home: each would undermine the other.

It’s high time for a ban on seabed mining in our own waters.

Back to the EPA for another hearing?

Whether this bill gets across the line or not, the Environmental Protection Authority will once again be considering an application by Trans Tasman Resources - its third application, or perhaps better described as a “re-application,” to mine the seabed in the South Taranaki Bight.

Along with many of you, we've been on this case since 2013, when TTR first applied and then was refused, and then from 2016, when the company re-applied for a marine discharge consent to mine the Bight seabed for minerals. While the EPA gave it the green light in 2017, we took this fight to the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and all the way to the Supreme Court, each of them quashing the EPA's consent.

Hands across the sand protest against seabed mining

However, the Supreme Court sent it back to the EPA now to reconsider the application in light of its decision. Trans-Tasman Resources Chair Alan Eggars continues to argue the Supreme Court decision was “limited”, so we can expect another fight, one we intend to win.

The court stated that, in essence, if the activity of seabed mining causes material harm, it cannot go ahead, unless that harm can be avoided through remediation. To us, it is abundantly clear that digging up 50 million tonnes of the seabed every year for 35 years, and dumping 45 million tonnes of that bulk back down onto the seabed, with the associated massive plume, toxic waste, noise and other effects, will cause material harm.

And there is no way of remediating that harm.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, last year we had to go back to the High Court to discuss what happens next. The court essentially left it to the EPA to work out the next steps.

If you made a submission to TTR’s application in 2016, you should have received an email from the EPA on the 3rd of March outlining the upcoming process.

The EPA has appointed a five-member Decision Making Committee, which will ensure a fairer process than the last hearing, where the pro-business chair had a casting vote. It was a terrible look for the DMC and, we believe, a blow to natural justice.

Trans Tasman Resources must file its re-application documents with the EPA by May 19.

What happens after that? It's not very clear:

  • We understand the company is allowed to bring updated scientific evidence – but will we be able to field experts to challenge that evidence?

  • Will there be a public submission period? We certainly think there should be one

  • If there is a hearing, to what extent will the DMC let questions be put to witnesses?.

Once TTR has lodged its application, we expect to hear what the process is. The EPA has released a minute detailing a little of the process, which largely tells us we have to wait until the application is in.

We trust that, in the interests of natural justice, this new application will be open to the public to make our views heard.

Last time 13,000 of us made submissions against the proposal. We know the community and the public at large is very much opposed to trashing our oceans through seabed mining, and we will not stop until we win.

Cindy Baxter

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