Are EPA staff balanced?

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the author of a report on Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) signed a Greenpeace petition has led CRP to ask the report be withdrawn.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