New Zealand Revamps EPA to Establish National, Uniform Environmental Regulator

WELLINGTON, New Zealand--New Zealand's newly independent Environmental Protection Authority will formally begin operations July 1 as a national environmental regulator.

Parliament May 11 passed the Environmental Protection Authority Act, paving the way for EPA to establish a consistent, nationally uniform, regulatory approach for a broad range of environmental issues previously scattered across several agencies.

The new law establishes EPA as a standalone “Crown agent,” meaning that it will work under an independent board rather than under direct political control. A provisional EPA with limited functions, established under New Zealand's main environmental law, the 1991 Resource Management Act (RMA), has been in operation since October 2009.

The new EPA will take over environmental regulatory functions from the Environment Ministry, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Environmental Risk Management Authority, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the reform was informed by the view that the “Environment Ministry needed to be the strong and competent policy adviser, the Environmental Protection Authority needed be the arm's length regulator, and that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment needed to be the auditor.”

The minister also made a separate announcement about environmental regulations off New Zealand's coasts. Citing the 2010 oil pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico, Smith said he would introduce a draft law in the House in the coming months that would strengthen environmental regulation in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.

Smith also said the government plans to “beef up” the Parliamentary Commissioner's role in independent environment reporting. When completed, this will give New Zealand a “first-class and robust environmental system of governance,” he said.

Permit Authority Over National Projects.

One important function of EPA will be the permitting of projects of national significance under the RMA. If, in the view of the minister for the environment, a permit application to a local council is of national significance, he or she has the power under the RMA to “call in” the proposal and have it dealt with by EPA.

Large wind farms or road projects that cross the districts of several local councils are examples of the type of projects that could be referred to EPA.

Environmental permit applications under the RMA that have not been declared of national significance--the bulk of cases--will continue to be processed by regional and district councils.

In addition to national permitting authority, the act assigns the following functions to EPA:

• Take over the regulatory functions of the Environmental Risk Management Authority in relation to the 1996 Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act;

• Take over the administration of the Emissions Trading Scheme and Registry under the 2002 Climate Change Response Act;

• Advise the government on the development of National Environmental Standards under the RMA;

• Take over the permitting and exemption functions under the 1996 Ozone Layer Protection Act;

• Take over the permitting functions under the 2004 Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Prohibition Order, which implements New Zealand's obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade; and

• Provide assessment of environmental effects in Antarctica.

By Eduard Goldberg