The public is to be consulted for one week on changes to the seabed mining laws, after a last-minute plea from environmentalists.
The Seabed Minerals Amendment Bill 2020 was scheduled to be tabled in Parliament yesterday.
But Te Ipukarea Society, Kōrero O Te `Ōrau and other concerned individuals requested it be referred to a select committee.
Society member Kelvin Passfield said these amendments should not be passed in their present form.
Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown agreed to allow a week’s opportunity for additional stakeholder comment, and open up the Bill for public comment.
Brown said this was a short bill, and did not require an extensive period for comment.
He would talk further with the Seabed Minerals Authority, who would manage the process.
Kelvin Passfield said the most worrying amendment was the change from “public interest” to “national interest” in three places in the law change.
That alone could massively reduce the ability to oppose mining licences that might have an adverse socio-economic or cultural impact.
Passfield said the bill protected commercial confidentiality provisions at the expense of the public interest.
It also removed a requirement for written advice of compliance with the Environment Act, he added.
“It changes ‘best available technology’ to ‘best available techniques’, which is narrower, and qualifies it with ‘in accordance with any standards or guidelines issued by the Cook Islands Government’.
“It massively weakens ‘pollution prevention’ to ‘pollution control’.”
However Mark Brown said aside from correcting minor typos, these amendments were focused on clarifying certain key provisions.
“Where there has been a slight policy change, that has mainly affected industry, through the management of information,” Brown said.
“There is also a slight licensing panel composition change. There is nothing in those changes which is of major environmental consequence.”
Brown said given the limited and focused nature of these amendments – the decision was made by government to have limited consultation with the Opposition, government agencies and some industry.
“Furthermore, it is not typical for amendment bills of this nature to have the same extensive consultation period as a primary bill, such as the Seabed Minerals Bill last year.”
Passfield agreed the Seabed Minerals Bill 2019 went through extensive community consultation.
“It makes a mockery of that process to then rush through significant amendments to that Bill without giving the public the opportunity to review,” he said.