The Environmental Protection Authority set up under changes to the Resource Management Act has come into existence on Thursday.
The authority was established to centralise and streamline decisions around nationally significant proposals.
Environment Minister Nick Smith says it will provide greater national leadership and enable timely decisions on critical infrastructure.
Dr Smith says the current system is slow, costly and inefficient, and it is unrealistic to expect small councils to have the resources to cope with major consents.
He says the Government intends that the authority will be the national regulator on environmental issues and the Environment Ministry to be a smaller policy agency.