Are EPA staff balanced?

August 26th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Allegations that the author of a report on Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) signed a Greenpeace petition has led CRP to ask the report be withdrawn.

The demand comes after CRP criticised the content and timing of the Environmental Protection Authority’s staff report, which was issued last week.

The report said it could not recommend a marine consent for CRP to vacuum phosphate nodules from the seabed of the Chatham Rise, about 450 kilometres east of Christchurch.

Chatham Rock holds a mining permit over an area off the coast of New Zealand with significant seabed deposits of rock phosphate.

CRP’s managing director Chris Castle said a new and potentially more serious basis for concern about the validity of the report and its conclusions had emerged.

“It has come to CRP’s attention that one of the key authors of the 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,” Castle said.

“If this is the case, it raises very serious questions over the objectivity of the report and its conclusions.”

CRP considered the report to be potentially biased and therefore totally unreliable. It intended to seek the formal withdrawal of the report, Castle said.

How serious this is, depends on how key a role this person had in deciding and authoring the report.

Generally any evidence of pre-determination is grounds for review, and signing a petition against offshore exploration may suggest that the author was influenced by his or her own views, rather than the evidence submitted.

This is one of the challenges of conservation and environmental agencies. Many of their staff have passionate views on their subject areas, which can interfere with their requirement to not let those views affect their professional judgement.

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17 Responses to “Are EPA staff balanced?”

  1. EAD (1,285 comments) says:

    5 words is all you need to remember to understand outfits like the EPA or Ministry of Education:

    “Long March through the institutions”

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  2. Ross12 (1,453 comments) says:

    I think the more serious issue with this is that apparently the EPA asked CRP for more information on part of the submission. CRP agreed and an agreed time to have the extra information ( which was quite substantial) into the EPA was set. BUT this EPA report was released before that time was up. That is much more important and damning on the EPA than the signature.

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  3. Steve Wrathall (284 comments) says:

    Another useless institution whereby leftists can push their opinions and have the rest of us pay for it. And isn’t it strange that the same shriekers who rail against globalisation oppose moves to make us more self-sufficient in phosphate-thereby more reliant on imported Moroccan phosphate high in cadmium.

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  4. tom hunter (5,075 comments) says:

    I should think that a rules and procedures book that is ten centimetres thick should suffice to improve the EPA, since the slim five centimetre volume they have now has not been enough.

    And of course you’ll need public servants to write it. Plenty of work to be done.

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  5. flipper (4,194 comments) says:

    Thanks for raising that issue David.
    But true to form, Stuff skews the complaint by CRP:

    The following is an extract from Chris Castle’s statement to the Stock exchange:

    ” …. “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.

    DECLARATION: Flipper has no financial interest, direct or indirect, in CRP.

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  6. johnwellingtonwells (137 comments) says:

    Was Cunliffe the staff member? Another item on his CV?

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  7. RRM (10,001 comments) says:

    Oppose everything.

    Do nothing.

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  8. Elaycee (4,403 comments) says:

    Jesus wept…… Why do some morons resort to the use of bold font to try and make a point?

    Do they lack the basic computer skills to write a comment in regular font?
    Do they think their view is somehow, important?
    Are they plain ignorant?
    All of the above?

    Pathetic.

    Scroll. Scroll. Scroll….

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  9. burt (8,301 comments) says:

    Elaycee

    Tackling the big issue, good on you !

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  10. burt (8,301 comments) says:

    I’m confused. I thought all we needed to do to protect the environment was increase taxes and wealth distribution.

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  11. flipper (4,194 comments) says:

    Elaycee…
    Because I feel like it.
    If DPF complains, I will accept it.
    But you? Get stuffed, moron.
    There you are, tit for tat.

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  12. tom hunter (5,075 comments) says:

    Way back in 2002 I was invited by UMR to take part in a focus group. At first I thought it might be something to do with assessing some new current affairs show on TV, but it soon became obvious that it was research for the Labour party.

    In this case the focus was on government spending and the taxes to pay for it. Despite their overwhelming lead in the polls and the disarray of National, the Labour-led government must already have been worried about the issue of tax rates, tax revenue and what it was spent on – a far cry from the confidence of just three years earlier when increased tax revenue was going to fix the dreadful problems they inherited from fifteen years of “neo-liberal” economics.

    They started by handing us a list of – I assume – every government department, ministry, quango and any other state body. The list was in two columns on each sheet, both sides, and there were four such sheets. They wanted to know whether we were aware of all of this and what we thought of them: did we even know any of the names? We each could identify a few. The idea was to work through the list and decide which ones we thought were worth paying taxes for – and possibly increasing tax rates for.

    Of the eight people there that night I was the only one who said he would be voting National in the upcoming election. The others chuckled, at least until I made it clear that – as useless as National was – I was doing so merely to try and stop Helen Clark from gaining more than 50% and being able to do anything she wanted. Even those voting Labour seemed to be wary of such an outcome.

    However I thought the exercise was a mistake. I noted that even the most left wing of the attendees seemed horrified by the list. Who were these outfits? What did they do? What was it worth to the country as a whole? I thought the whole evening rather counter-productive if the aim was to gain support for the status quo size of government, let alone increasing it.

    So perhaps National – or more likely ACT – should just do the same. Send that detailed list to every homeowner in the country and ask them if this is what they want to pay for. It might have more effect than vague appeals for smaller government.

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  13. Nigel Kearney (1,047 comments) says:

    The fact that the staff member chose to work at the EPA is overwhelming evidence of anti-development bias. Signing a petition doesn’t really add anything.

    Tom Hunter, Helen didn’t do those focus groups to ‘gain support for the status quo size of government’. She did them to figure out which spending to promote and take credit for, and which spending to keep doing quietly and not talk about.

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  14. tom hunter (5,075 comments) says:

    Yes Nigel, you are correct. I was painting the scene with a broad brush, but the overall effect would be to at least support the status quo of government size and – since it’s the stuff that is done quietly and not talked about that really has the impact – to continue to slowly grow it.

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  15. Albert_Ross (310 comments) says:

    We all seem to think that the logic must run in this direction: His expertise and analysis is suspect because he signed a petition.

    Isn’t it just possible that he signed the petition because of his expertise and analysis?

    Thus, instead of signing the petition making his expertise less meaningful, his expertise makes his signing the petition more meaningful.

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  16. artemisia (253 comments) says:

    The yes/no decision the EPA made on the Trans Tasman Resources application raised a pink flag. No appeal except on points of law, which appeal TTR is progressing. If the CRP is also a no decision, especially in the light of the staff report issues, that IMO would amount to a red flag. That is issues, plural, of which potential staff bias is one and premature production of the staff report is another.

    AFAIK the EPA has not yet responded to the issues raised. I live in hope ….

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  17. Alan Wilkinson (1,885 comments) says:

    @Albert_Ross, in science it is normal for an opinion and value judgement to be formed after doing the research, not before. The fact this clown cannot even remember signing the petition is pretty clear indication the clown gave it minimal thought and study at all.

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