Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Protecting the oceans

After ten years in development, the government has finally introduced legislation to regulate environmental activities in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone. The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill establishes a regulatory regime similar to that of the RMA, overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority, and covering activities such as offshore drilling, seabed mining, and laying submarine cables. However, there's some important differences. Where the RMA puts the focus squarely on the environment, the EEZ bill includes among its core principles

the economic well-being of New Zealand
Which is pretty much a blank cheque for anything. In addition, people exercising powers under the Act must also consider "the nature and effect of other marine management regimes" - meaning that our environment gets to be held hostage by the international lowest common denominator. So, rather than being about environmental protection, this bill is about greenwashing exploitation.

(And, while we're at it, its worth remembering that the Environmental "Protection" Authority isn't actually supposed to protect the environment. This bill is simply more of the same).

The good news is that the bill will go to Select Committee, so there's some chance of improving it. If they don't, well, we've already seen that people are willing to step in toprotect the oceans where the government won't. If National wants to prevent that sort of action, it needs to present a law which people can trust. At present, I’m not sure that this one is good enough.