Chatham Rock Phosphate today announced it would be formally seeking the withdrawal of the Environmental Protection Authority’s staff report issued last week because of extremely worrying evidence which suggests the potential for bias.
CRP last week criticised both the content and timing of the EPA staff report on CRP’s Marine Consent application. Now a new and potentially more serious basis for concern about the validity of the report and its conclusions has emerged.
CRP’s Managing Director Chris Castle said today CRP considers the report to be potentially biased and therefore totally unreliable, and it intends to seek that the EPA staff report be formally withdrawn. CRP will shortly make an application to the EPA’s decision-making committee for that to occur.
“It has come to CRP’s attention that one of the key authors of the EPA staff report appears to have been a signatory to a Greenpeace petition in 2010 seeking the Government permanently stop all plans to open up New Zealand’s coastal waters to offshore oil drilling and stop any expansion of coal mining in New Zealand. If this is the case, it raises very serious questions over the objectivity of the report and its conclusions.
“While I accept the subject matter of the petition does not refer directly to offshore mining projects such as ours, there is certainly a strong enough link between the subject matter of the petition and our project to raise an alarm. This is further compounded by the fact that Greenpeace is a key submitter in opposition to CRP’s marine consent application.
“Any potential for a relationship with a submitter needs to be disclosed by EPA staff and, if any connection exists, the staff member simply should not be involved.
“We have asked the EPA to confirm whether the staff member was a signatory to the petition. The EPA’s response has been the staff member is not and has never been a financial member of Greenpeace and, while the individual does not recall whether or not they signed the petition, the staff member has conceded it is possible that they may have signed it.
“We understand the staff member did confirm they have, from time to time, received communications from Greenpeace. We have asked the EPA to investigate the matter further, but the EPA advised it is satisfied with the individual’s response.
“In the circumstances, that response is simply is not good enough. A hazy memory about such important matters is not convincing, and we believe the only reasonable inference that can be drawn is the staff member was in fact a signatory to the petition.
“If that is the case, it confirms our suspicions the report was not an objective or fair evaluation of the merits of CRP’s proposal, quite apart from the other serious problems regarding accuracy, that we have identified with it.
“It is absolutely vital in a public process like this the people involved in assessing our proposal are objective and there is no possibility of bias. We do not have confidence this is the case and we believe there is a serious risk our application has not been fairly assessed.
“The only option is for the report to be formally withdrawn,” said Mr Castle.
“This is an important issue for all public servants. The public must have confidence in their independence.
“While we understand it is already in the public domain, in our view there should be formal recognition the report has no value and will have no legal relevance to the rest of the marine consent process.”
An application to the EPA’s decision-making committee responsible for CRP’s application will be made shortly.
“We are confident the decision making committee will share our concerns about the report and direct that it be withdrawn.”
Mr Castle said CRP has identified numerous errors of fact in the report and the company also has concerns about conclusions drawn which conflict with expert evidence.
He said there is no reason for a staff report to contain any conclusions or recommendations as an input into the decision-making process. “This is particularly unfair as the views of staff cannot be tested through the Marine Consent process because they do not give evidence.”
Mr Castle said there was no need for a second staff report, nor is there any need for any delay to the marine consent process as all relevant issues will be fully aired before the decision making committee.
“The process underway involves several weeks of evidence and discussions between interested parties. That is the public process which matters, where anyone who has submitted on the proposal can be involved.”