Environmental exemptions for public projects dubious By Cynthia Oi

 

Thursday, March 29, 2012 

Under the Sun

 

Good for Cynthia Thielen. The Windward Oahu representative wasn’t having any of Rep. Sharon Har’s health and safety argument, the mirepoix that’s become the base in the stew of rationalization for legislation the public might find distasteful.

Har was trying to sell the menu of exemptions in a bill that would grant the governor the imperial power to set aside a host of environmental protections and other regulations in the name of economic revitalization.

The exemption power, Har contended, would speed state construction projects, including some to protect public health and safety.

Thielen, a sharp environmental attorney, cut off Har’s warmed-over line.

“Don’t try to hang your hat on health and safety because that doesn’t hold water,” Thielen told Har.

She went on to point out that the governor already has authority to deal with an emergency.

And Abercrombie has shown he has no qualms about using it, ordering removal of nene from the area around Lihue airport and sweeping away environmental rules to allow removal of old military munitions from state property, the latter with no public notice.

Those actions may or may not have been warranted, but the measure Har was trying to sell and similar bills making their way through the Legislature certainly aren’t worthy of becoming law.

The bills’ goals are ostensibly to hasten public works projects to boost the construction segment of the economy by releasing them from environmental review. The governor would choose the projects to be exempted if, in his opinion, they would do little environmental harm.

No doubt the governor is an intelligent man. No doubt he would have a wealth of expertise at hand to help him form an opinion.

Doubt creeps in, however, because the public would not be allowed to challenge an exemption unless the governor allows it.

Doubt crawls deeper because the state Office of Environmental Quality Control would not be able to provide public notice of exempt projects unless the governor allows it.

The bills’ supporters claim that a host of necessary projects is being held up because of environmental procedures, that these vexing rules are delaying ventures that could provide much-needed paychecks for construction workers and are inhibiting the state’s economic recovery.

Scarce are examples of stymied projects as well as how environmental laws have hindered them. The more likely barrier is government’s inability to consider a project and environmental concerns wholly and to do the homework needed to get a project off the ground efficiently.

Economic recovery and environment stewardship are not incompatible objectives. Neither should the public be shut out, particularly since failure or success of any enterprise swings on public support.

Exempting government projects also creates different standards of environment protections for public and private initiatives, an issue that opens the door to embroiling legal challenges no one would welcome.

In passing these bills, what lawmakers and the administration are saying is doing the job is so much humbug. Instead of shouldering responsibility, they would rather stir a recipe that leaves out critical ingredients.

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.

Rep. Thielen and Ward address part of SB 2394

SB 2394 SD1 HD2. The purpose of the proposed HD2 bill is to (1) Authorize the DCCA to enforce certain federal laws that protect military members and their families from abusive lending practices and (2) Create a mortgage loan purchase program within Hawaii housing finance and development corporation (HHFDC) to purchase mortgages from qualify consumers who are facing foreclosure—similar to what was one part of the **HB 2103 HD2 State Bank bill**.

Regarding PART TWO OF HD2 (mortgage purchases):
HI Association of Realtors: “The $25 million in revenue bonds…may impact Hawaii’s bond rating and needs to be carefully considered.”
HI Bankers Association:
This bill doesn’t make sense. This distressed residential properties program is a wholesale bailout of lenders who made bad loans. It creates a State of Hawaii portfolio of toxic mortgages. The State will is basically becoming the mortgagor. The full faith and credit of the state is what will make the lenders whole. This could adversely impact state’s credit and bond rating. The bill allows state to issue up to $25M in revenue bonds. This will just repeat what brought the mortgage crisis upon us in the first place—toxic mortgages were bundled up and sold to unsuspecting bondholders. Future borrowers will have more difficulty qualifying for a mortgage; banks will pass onto them the costs by requiring a high down payment, and by being more conservative in the underwriting. We also question the legality of the provision allowing condemnation of private personal property for public use provision.

HI Financial Services Association: Bill is “short on sound reasons for the HHFDC to purchase (and in some instances force the purchase of)…a problematic loan and then make a new loan on that property to bailout that same homeowner.”

Contact: repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov Excerpt from Capitol TV

Reps. Thielen and Marumoto address SB 2394 – mortgage purchases

SB 2394 SD1 HD2. The purpose of the proposed HD2 bill is to (1) Authorize the DCCA to enforce certain federal laws that protect military members and their families from abusive lending practices and (2) Create a mortgage loan purchase program within Hawaii housing finance and development corporation (HHFDC) to purchase mortgages from qualify consumers who are facing foreclosure—similar to what was one part of the **HB 2103 HD2 State Bank bill**.

Regarding PART TWO OF HD2 (mortgage purchases):
HI Association of Realtors: “The $25 million in revenue bonds…may impact Hawaii’s bond rating and needs to be carefully considered.”
HI Bankers Association:
This bill doesn’t make sense. This distressed residential properties program is a wholesale bailout of lenders who made bad loans. It creates a State of Hawaii portfolio of toxic mortgages. The State will is basically becoming the mortgagor. The full faith and credit of the state is what will make the lenders whole. This could adversely impact state’s credit and bond rating. The bill allows state to issue up to $25M in revenue bonds. This will just repeat what brought the mortgage crisis upon us in the first place—toxic mortgages were bundled up and sold to unsuspecting bondholders. Future borrowers will have more difficulty qualifying for a mortgage; banks will pass onto them the costs by requiring a high down payment, and by being more conservative in the underwriting. We also question the legality of the provision allowing condemnation of private personal property for public use provision.

HI Financial Services Association: Bill is “short on sound reasons for the HHFDC to purchase (and in some instances force the purchase of)…a problematic loan and then make a new loan on that property to bailout that same homeowner.”

Contact: repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov or repmarumoto@capitol.hawaii.gov Excerpt from Capitol TV

Harnessing Heritage with Rep Ching – Thriving

Host Representative Corinne Ching speaks with
Guest 1: Dr. James Ireland / Director, Honolulu Emergency Services Dept. and
Guest 2: Leslie Lam / Executive Director, American Diabetes Assn. Hawaii and
Guest 3 Viola Genadio/ RN, APRN, CDE, BC-ADM

This special program will focus on preserving our heritage through the health of our community. As some of you may know, March is Kidney Month. In light of Kidney Month, we are pleased to introduce the Green Anthurium Project. The Green Anthurium, one of the longest living plants indigenous to our islands, is a symbol of our Diabetes Awareness Campaign. The Green Anthurium Project encourages the community to live well, healthy and revitalize our lives and is inspired by the late Ms. Beverlyn Ho, a dear friend, who passed on due to Diabetes.
The Green Anthurium embodies the reminder to live well and eat well. By giving the Green Anthurium, you’re saying, “Thank you, I appreciate you — be well, live well.”

Contact Repching@capitol.hawaii.gov Excerpt from Capitol TV

Reps. Riviere and Thielen address SB 755.- Special Management Area Permits

S.B. No. 755, S.D. 2, H.D. 2 RELATING TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
(Economic Development; Special Management Area Permits, Shoreline Setback Variances, Environmental Assessment Exemptions) AS AMENDED, REFER TO FINANCE
The purpose of this bill is to provide sweeping exemptions for the justification that it will facilitate economic development. In the HD2 bill:
Part III temporarily authorizes DLNR and DOT, with the approval of the governor, to exempt department projects from the special management area permit and shoreline setback variance requirements. Part IV exempts all work involving submerged lands used for state commercial harbor purposes from any permit and site plan review requirements for lands in the conservation district. Part V temporarily authorizes a more streamlined process for exempting state and county projects from the environmental review process of chapter 343, HRS, and reduces the deadline for challenging the lack of an environmental assessment for a state or county project.

“Scrapping the current structure that ensures thoughtful review, complete transparency and opportunity for public input in exchange for a unilateral process that includes no public input, no transparency and no system of thoughtful impartial review sets a very bad precedent, provides a separate set of rules for public and private projects, is unnecessary, demonstrates a lack of understanding of Chapter 343 in particular, is not in the best interest of the public and has the potential to do great damage to our natural environment ” (Office of Environmental Quality Control).

There is no need for a separate EA exemption process created for state and county projects when a functional system for creating agency exemption lists currently exists and is overseen by the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) and the Environmental Council (OHA).

The bill “grants the State broad powers over project planning while simultaneously reducing county and community input” (OHA).

Contact: repreviere@capitol.hawaii.gov Excerpt from Capitol TV

REP. CORINNE CHING, FOUNDER OF HPAD, TO REPRESENT ‘HISTORIC LILIHA TOWN’ DURING HISTORIC PRESERVATION AWARENESS DAY

Begun by Representative Corinne Ching, a former elementary school teacher, during her freshman year in 2002, this year’s tenth annual Historic Preservation Awareness Day (HPAD) will take place at the Hawaii State Capitol, on Friday, March 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The Heritage Caucus organizes the celebration annually in order to raise awareness about the importance of historic preservation to the overall well being of Hawaii.  “HPAD was started as a means to connect organizations and policy makers that often have a say in deciding the fate of many historical sites,” said Ching, who also founded the Heritage Caucus.

“This year is a very special year for our district,” said Ching (Liliha-Nuuanu). “We recently filed legislation (H.C.R. 229) that would officially recognize the ‘Historic Liliha Town’, due to it’s long history and preserved local culture. This event will encourage supporters to come out and see what truly makes Liliha unique in the historic community.”

The proposed measure requests both the Department of Transportation and the Department of Transportation Services to update signage in the vicinity of Liliha to recognize the ‘Historic Liliha Town’.  Ching is requesting the community to help schedule a hearing, “Liliha offers the best overall glimpse of true local culture and has already been designated a historic corridor.  It reflects a variety of Hawaii’s multicultural past as well as distinctive historic architecture unique to Hawai’i.  This measure is intended to solidify recognition of ‘Historic Liliha Town’, and encourage heritage tourism in the state.”

The Hawaii Heritage Caucus is a bi-partisan effort by Representative Cindy Evans and Representative Corinne Ching, that seeks to identify, protect, and preserve the state’s cultural resources and foster widespread appreciation of Hawaii’s cultural heritage and built environment.

Historic preservation organizations and leaders from across the State will feature exhibits at the State Capitol’s fourth floor corridors from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m..

For further information call Jessica Bursack (808) 586-9415.

Photo (Tonia-Moy-at-preservation-awareness-day-event-at-capitol)