Tom Pullar-Strecker | Stuff | April 16 2018
One of the lobby groups fighting a decision to approve iron sands mining off the Taranaki coast says it is prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August approved an application by miner Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to dredge a billion tonnes of iron sands from the South Taranaki Bight, in a split decision that swung on committee chairman Alick Shaw’s casting vote.
A total of 11 groups with environmental, fishing and Maori interests are appealing the decision at the High Court in Wellington. They are concerned about issues such as the plume from waste material that will be returned to the seabed.
Some have also warned the project would set a precedent for seabed mining elsewhere in New Zealand waters and beyond.
Cindy Baxter, chairwoman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) – speaking outside the High Court before proceedings began – said it was very clear the former National government supported the mining venture.
She believed that had not been lost on the EPA, which is an independent body.
“The Government changed the legislation to make it easier for it to get through and Callaghan Innovation suddenly gave TTR a big grant when it wasn’t even a New Zealand company,” she said.
“This is a company that brought 35 per cent of its shares across from Holland three weeks before its application so it could claim it was a Kiwi company.”
Baxter said she couldn’t say whether the EPA was influenced by the former government’s support for the venture. But “it certainly got that message” and the process it had gone through to approve the mining application was flawed, she said.
Even so, two of the commissioners still voted to reject the mining application, issuing a “strongly dissenting opinion”, she noted.
Baxter said she believed the new government was trying to be “hands off” and was waiting for the outcome of the court challenge.
“I think they are letting the legal process go through. They don’t really want to talk to us about it at the moment – although certainly the Green Party does.”
Baxter said KASM was prepared to take the court challenge as far as it needed to.
“If we have to, we will take it to the Supreme Court. This is a precedent-setting case.
“It is the first seabed mining application that has been approved in New Zealand and it would open the flood gates for others around the country.”
TTR has been contacted for comment. It has previously said the Taranaki Iron Sands project would be “a sustainable and world leading development” that would have little environmental effect and directly employ 463 people, generating about $7 million of royalties for the Crown.
Baxter said seabed mining was basically new internationally, though diamond giant De Beers has vacuumed diamonds from 6000 square kilometres of sea floor off the coast of Namibia.
There are proposals to mine a large area about 500 miles south-east of Hawaii called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone which Japanese scientists are reported to estimate contains up to 100 billion metric tons of rare-earth deposits.
Southern Cross Cable, which has surveyed a route for a new internet cable between New Zealand, Australia and the United States, has been re-surveying its route to avoid that mining zone.
Greenpeace campaigner Michael Smith said the South Taranaki Bight was a “vital ecosystem” that was home to endangered blue whales and Maui dolphins.