March 18, 2012
by Representative Cynthia Thielen
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has drawn much attention in its editorial pages to key issues affecting our state, such as open government, education, reapportionment, homeless- ness, clean energy, and the cost and reliability of electricity.
However, a significant area remains outside the spotlight: the Legislature’s attack on Hawaii’s landmark environmental protections. A startling number of bills that would have long-lasting impacts on the integrity and preservation of our environmental and cultural resources are being rapidly ushered through the legislative process. These short-sighted bills cast aside more than 30 years of wisdom by exempting government projects from the public environmental review process, as set forth by Chapters 205A and 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes, enacted by our state Legislature in 1975 and 1979.
Many of these bills are being pushed by the governor and certain legislative and committee leaders. About half of these bills were fast-tracked and specifically bypassed the substantive House committees, leaving the public out of the loop. Others had their content gutted and replaced, further lessening review and public input.
» House Bill 530 gives the Office of Planning the ability to grant or deny SMA permits and shoreline setback variances for state structures and activities; exempts certain state departments from the Coastal Zone Management Act; has the potential to exempt an undersea cable from environmental review; and specifies that state projects are not required to be consistent with county general plans.
» HB 2145 makes it state policy to identify certain key state projects, such as the interisland cable and fixed rail, with the intent to complete these projects by 2023. This bill doesn’t specifically exempt such projects from environmental review, but it lays the groundwork for other bills specific to these projects which do allow for such exemptions.
The following bills exempt specific agencies and projects from review or permitting requirements: airport projects (HB 2154); Dept. of Transportation’s Harbors Division (HB 2613); broadband projects (HB 2324, HB 2325 and Senate Bill 2235); geothermal projects (HB 2690); Dept. of Land and Natural Resources’ Boating Division (SB 2381); secondary actions/DOT highway projects (HB 2611 and SB 2873); tentative subdivisions (SB 2335); development projects in the vicinity of rail and bus transit stations (SB 2927); and bridge rehabilitation (SB 3010).
SB 2785 establishes a regulatory structure for the installation and implementation of an interisland electric transmission cable system and associated on-island infrastructure. Essentially this bill is to enable an interisland cable to transmit an electricity supply from one island to another, so energy produced on one island can be sent to power a different island.
SB 2785 contains two key areas of language which would place the financial risk and burden on the ratepayers and entitle the electric utility company to recover capital costs through an automatic rate adjustment and cable surcharge, even if they elect not to complete the project.
This is a blank check for a business venture, and we have grave concerns about the likely cost to ratepayers.
These bills go directly against our state’s longstanding commitment to protect our environment. The public needs to voice its concern, loudly and often, if we’re to get back on the right track.