22 Apr 2020

Seabed mining bid goes to Supreme Court

5:19 pm on 22 April 2020

Trans Tasman Resources says it is going to take its bid to mine millions of tonnes of ironsands off the coast of Taranaki to New Zealand's highest court.

18072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Wellington High Court.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

This month the Court of Appeal turned down an attempt to overturn an earlier decision quashing its original consents for the seabed mining operation.

The court found there were multiple errors of law in the approach of the Environmental Protection Authority's decision making committee (DMC) when granting the consents in 2017.

Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) today lodged a notice of appeal to the Supreme Court.

The company said the basis of its appeal would be that the DMC did follow the correct legal approach.

Executive chairman Alan J Egger, said the company did not take the decision to lodge an appeal to New Zealand's highest court lightly but there was too much at stake for the Taranaki region and New Zealand not to take legal action.

"The opportunity is a major new $1 billion export industry employing best practice sustainable environmental approach to mineral recovery, with minimal impact on the environment, that will help meet the demand for the strategic metals vanadium and titanium required as the world and New Zealand transition to a low carbon energy economy," Eggers said.

"TTR's proposed iron sand recovery operation, located 22km to 36km offshore in the South Taranaki Bight, will deliver a large number of new jobs, skills training and port infrastructure to the region while delivering direct government revenue in royalties and corporate taxes and export earnings without the government having to deliver any economic support or hand-outs, additional services or infrastructure."

Eggers said the project would send the message that New Zealand was open for business, including the minerals and oil and gas sectors, could manage and approve sustainable low-impact development of the Exclusive Economic Zone, and that international investment was welcome.

TTR was looking forward to having its application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court granted, having the appeal heard as soon as possible and if the appeal succeeds the project getting the green light.

The Court of Appeal decision found the Environmental Protection Authority's decision making committee, which required the casting vote of its chair to grant the consents, focused too much on managing the impact of the proposed project instead of its primary objective of protecting the environment.

"The DMC erred in focusing on the sustainable management objective that applies to all marine consents under the Exclusive Economic Zone Act, and failing to give separate and explicit consideration to the environmental bottom line of protecting the environment from pollution caused by discharges of harmful substances," the decision said.

The Court also found the Treaty of Waitangi principles were not adhered to.

"The kaitiakitanga relationship between tangata whenua and the marine environment and its resources is a relevant 'existing interest'. That kaitiakitanga relationship includes, but is not limited to, the stewardship and use of natural resources such as kai moana. The cultural and spiritual elements of kaitiakitanga must also be considered."

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui and Te Kaahui o Rauru were among a group including, iwi, environmental and fisheries groups that lodged cross appeals.

At the time of the decision, Ngāti Ruanui kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was "historic".

"The decision from the Court of Appeal just slammed the Environmental Protection Authority and raises just how shamelessly iwi interests were just disregarded.

"That's a huge part of the win today. One we were able to stop this type of activity but also we were able to have validated by the second-highest court in the country how important our kaitiakitanga is and how important our environment is."

Ngarewa-Packer said she now wanted seabed mining banned outright.

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