Māori and environmental groups want a ban on seabed mining after the Supreme Court rejected a bid to mine off the Taranaki coast, but the mining company claims it now has a path to success.
By Craig Ashworth, Local Democracy Reporter
Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) wants consent to suck up to 50 million tonnes of seabed sand a year for 35 years to extract iron, titanium, and vanadium ore.
It would then discharge 45 million tonnes of unwanted material in a plume, to settle back on the sea floor.
Opponents said the sediment discharge and the noise of mining would harm marine mammals and other sea creatures.
Yesterday a unanimous Supreme Court decision sent TTR’s consent application back to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to reconsider, after a seven-year battle through the High Court and Court of Appeal by Ngāti Ruanui and 11 other iwi, environmental and fishing interest groups.
The Supreme Court ruled that if the EPA couldn’t impose consent conditions that prevent environment harm, the discharges must be prohibited and the application denied.
The Court also found that the EPA must take a “broad and generous” view of its Treaty of Waitangi obligations, and take into account tikanga and kaitiakitanga.
In a statement, the Environmental Protection Authority acknowledged the judgement as a significant development in environmental law in New Zealand.
“The EPA had already moved to implement aspects of the Court of Appeal decision as we continued to apply the legislation to new applications, particularly in respect of identification and consideration of impacts on existing interests, including those held by Māori.”
“We look forward to working with applicants, Māori and other stakeholders to continue this work in line with this Supreme Court decision.”
Trans Tasman Resources’ executive chairman Alan Eggers, also in a written statement, said the rulings set out a pathway for success with the EPA.
“There are no aspects of the judgment that are an impediment to TTR having the consents re-approved.”
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was time for an outright ban on seabed mining.
“The highest court in the land has now definitively set a precedent which must be implemented by government – now is the time to ban seabed mining in Aotearoa.”
She said the Government should pick up her proposed Prohibition on Seabed Mining Legislation Bill, which is already in the Parliamentary ballot.
“Seabed mining practices are environmental vandalism and would wreak havoc on marine life and coastlines for decades to come.”
That call was backed by her Ngāti Ruanui iwi.
The tumu whakaae (chairman) of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui, Haimona Maruera, said his people “couldn’t be more stoked with this decision.
“That’s why we are calling on the Government to adopt Debbie’s seabed mining bill and ban this once and for all, so other hapū and iwi across the country don’t have to take up this fight.”
Neighbouring iwi Ngā Rauru was also party to the legal challenge.
The tumu whakarae (chairman) of Te Kāhui o Rauru, Mike Neho, said the case showed that iwi needed to stick to their own values in legal fights.
“Holding fast to tikanga and kaupapa, and having the people who are able to articulate that in a court of law is the key point here – it’s about having the right focus and the right people.”
Neho said the Supreme Court win would echo beyond the seabed mining issue.
“This is the first time that kaitiakitanga and tikanga have been tested at this level of law and this will be a game changer for recognition of iwi interests and decisions about the environment.”
Kiwis Against Seabed Mining was another party challenging TTR’s mining consent, and chairperson Cindy Baxter said the Government had been prevaricating over a seabed mining ban while the case was before the court.
“There is now absolutely nothing standing between the Government and a ban on seabed mining.”
“Seabed mining is dead in the water: it’s time for a ban, we don’t need to waste any more time on these lengthy - and costly – applications.”
Greenpeace was also a litigant, and its seabed mining campaigner James Hita supported the call for a ban.
“We can’t rely on communities and environmental groups to fight every mining company that knocks on the door.”
“The New Zealand Government must implement a ban now and ensure our door is always closed to seabed mining companies.”