Although the Resource Management Act regulates activities on land and out to 12 nautical miles off shore, beyond those limits there is currently no means for New Zealand to control activities affecting the environment.
The Exclusive Economic Zone & Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill aims to fill that gap.
The new legislation will regulate the area of sea, seabed and subsoil from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore – the “Exclusive Economic Zone”.
Activities such as petroleum exploration, seabed mining, marine energy generation, and marine scientific research will now fall into one of three categories:
- permitted (no consent required);
- discretionary (consent required); and
- prohibited (consent cannot be sought).
The classification will depend on the degree of harm or potential harm to the environment.
The Bill has caused some controversy – there is concern that it is too heavily weighted towards economic development rather than protecting the environment, and that too many activities will fall into the “permitted” category.
Once an application for a marine consent is made, the idea is that it will be publicly notified, and a hearing held by the Environmental Protection Authority – the government agency responsible for regulatory functions concerning New Zealand’s environmental management.
The regulations still need to be developed, and final approval given before the legislation actually comes into force.
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