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The potential extensive use of southern lignite by state-owned enterprise Solid Energy is set to become an election issue, with the Greens saying the boost to Crown Mineral's budget was "a 19th century economic strategy that will take New Zealand backwards".
With the Australian resource sector regaining pace and metal and minerals' prices hitting highs in recent months, the New Zealand Government is determined to boost exploration here to help economic recovery.
The budget for permit agency Crown Minerals, which also runs its own marine hydrographic seismic programmes to collate data to entice oil and gas explorers, has risen from $9.81 million to $14.8 million.
In the 2009 Budget, about $20 million was allocated over three years towards a seismic data acquisition programme run by Crown Minerals.
Green Party Energy spokesman Dr Kennedy Graham said more money spent by the Government promoting mining and drilling meant less money invested in smart, green economic development.
"This Budget shows the priority of John Key's Government is to try and make a quick buck, which will ultimately take New Zealand backwards," he said in a statement on Friday.
New Zealand's prosperity depended on investment in clean, green technology and sustainable jobs.
"Instead, John Key's Government prefers to spend our limited money wooing foreign companies to exploit a 19th century resource," Dr Graham said.
A fortnight ago, the Gore District Council decided not to publicly notify Solid Energy's resource consent for an up to $25 million pilot lignite briquetting plant near Mataura, which could lead to a bigger $1 billion plant if commercially viable.
Green Party spokesman on lignite coal, Gareth Hughes, said the Government had to stop the backwards-looking plan "to dig up dirty coal" that will destroy farmland and New Zealand's clean green brand.
Environment Southland's director of resource management Warren Tuckey said on Friday it had no legally valid reason for holding a full public hearing to consider applications for the proposed plant.
Solid Energy had applied to Environment Southland for an air discharge permit for emissions associated with the processing of lignite to create briquettes, and for water and discharge permits for washdown and boiler blow-down water.
While the non-notification "was frustrating for those who wished to use every possible avenue to oppose the industrial use of lignite", there was no evidence the environmental impacts of the plant would be anything other than minor.
"Therefore there were no grounds for notifying the discharge permit applications," Mr Tuckey said.
Mr Hughes said New Zealand had the chance to invest in creating a clean green prosperous future which all could enjoy.
"But we can't create a clean, green future by subsidising dirty lignite coal."
The Emissions Trading Scheme would subsidise the dirty coal plans and increase New Zealand's emissions, which would be "expensive and catastrophic for the climate".