Most Read Contributor in New Zealand, September 2016
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA)
will get a change of status and a lot more grunt under legislation
now before Parliament.
This Brief Counsel examines the proposed changes.
The EPA came into existence on 1 October last year as an office
within the Ministry for the Environment (MfE)
tasked with managing and administering the new call-in processes
for "nationally significant" projects under the
Resource Management Act (RMA).
But from these modest beginnings, the Government's intention
was always that the EPA would become a 'one-stop shop' for
environmental regulation. Hence the Environmental Protection
Authority Bill (the Bill), which went through
its first reading in the House this week. The Bill establishes the
EPA as stand-alone Crown entity and substantially increases its
New responsibilities include:
taking over the regulatory functions of the Environmental Risk
Management Authority (ERMA), primarily relating to
hazardous substances and new organisms under HSNO
replacing the Ministry of Economic Development as regulator of
the new Emissions Trading Scheme, and
acting as a technical advisor to Government and Crown entities
on environmental matters, including New Zealand's international
obligations. This role will also provide some much-needed
independent support to the MfE on the development of national
environmental standards under the RMA.
The expansion of the EPA reflects the Government's desire to
centralise decision-making in order to more clearly reflect
national priorities. This is reflected in the explanatory statement
to the Bill which states that:
The purpose of creating an EPA is
to more effectively, efficiently and transparently manage the
regulation of New Zealand's environment and natural and
physical resources. The establishment of the EPA will achieve this
through creating a national-level regulatory-focused agency that
can contribute to providing greater central government direction on
the regulation of the environment, consolidate regulatory and
technical skills, and achieve efficiency gains by bringing together
similar environmental regulatory functions and powers.
There will be an opportunity to make submissions on the Bill at
the select committee stages although, as the decisions have been
well-telegraphed, substantive changes are unlikely.
Once the expanded EPA is up and running, the Government has
signalled that it will introduce a new Environmental Reporting Act
to address environmental monitoring in New Zealand. A further
enlargement of the EPA's brief to include the administration of
the Exclusive Economic Zone is also on the cards.
On the whole, we think the new model EPA is a positive and
proactive step. Infrastructure providers and developers will
welcome the move toward stronger national direction over
environmental decision-making. Provided the momentum is maintained,
we should also see rapid progress in the delivery of new national
environmental standards (NES), which should unify
approaches to environmental regulation across the country and speed
up and simplify consenting processes.
If the EPA does indeed fulfil Environment Minister Nick
Smith's ambitions and become a 'one-stop shop', the
question arises whether we will at some stage see it expand further
to take over certain regional council responsibilities (e.g. over
contaminated land and discharge regulation).
But success is far from guaranteed. No organisation can succeed
unless it is adequately resourced and, given the Government's
tight budget and evidence already of some under-resourcing, there
is reason to be concerned on this front.
It is also difficult to assess in advance whether the EPA's
new powers will be more form than substance as, for the most part,
it will simply be taking over existing functions (and staff) from
The information in this article is for informative purposes
only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact
Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.
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