Why Environmental Exemptions Are A Terrible Policy For Hawaii
North Shore representative says SB755 supporters won't cite specifics on where projects are being held up.
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Senate Bill 755 SD2 HD2 is terrible policy for the State of Hawaii. This omnibus bill includes several bad ideas that personify an unprecedented assault on Hawaii’s environmental protection laws by the 2012 Hawaii State Legislature.
SB755 exempts airports and other state lands from SMA permits and shoreline setbacks, exempts harbors from any permit and site plan review, and allows the Governor to exempt state projects from Hawaii’s environmental review process. Many variations of these measures passed out of the House, only to die in the Senate.
Proponents of this bill claim that billions of dollars in construction projects are held up because of cumbersome environmental laws, but specifics on where projects are held up, i.e., planning, design or construction phases, have not been forthcoming. Proponents of this bill have referred to Kahului Airport as an example, but they offer no specifics on what is the hold up. I did some research.
Taking from six to nine months to complete, four Special Management Area (SMA) Permits were approved for Kahului Airport in 2009. Exemptions from Environmental Assessments were granted. The value of the work is approximately $34 million and nothing has been built.
The SMA process for a fuel storage tank revealed that it was going to be built in the Tsunami Inundation Zone, so the permit requires the tank to be built outside of this zone and appropriate spill mitigation measures to be installed to keep fuel out of the storm drains and ocean.
In other words, environmental laws are not holding up any current projects at Kahului Airport and the SMA Permit process improved the design of the fuel storage facility. Yet, three years later, nothing has been built.
Proponents of this bill argue that the Governor could only exempt projects that are not likely to have significant environmental impacts. However, SB755 would allow him to do so without approval of the Environmental Council, compliance with the Council’s procedures or rules of the Office of Environmental Quality Control, and exempt from any legal challenge afforded in the Hawaii Administrative Procedures. Why the Governor would be better at making these decisions than the experts, and why his decisions should be beyond appeal, remains a mystery.
Special Management Area Permits and environmental reviews allow public participation. Early community involvement is essential to successful implementation. Who understands impacts and design elements better, the residents in the affected area, or government employees in downtown Honolulu?
An environmental exemption process already exists and the Office of Environmental Quality Control has no backlog of exemption list requests. Throughout this session, in numerous hearings, I have seen no detailed evidence of how particular state laws are tying up any projects or how many people might be put to work with this new law. “Trust us, the state would do not harm” is not reassuring to me, nor to most everyone I know.
Public participation, early disclosure and review of potential impacts make projects better and avoid costly mistakes. Somebody needs to take a look before any exemption is granted. Giving the state automatic exemptions for SMA permits and the Governor exemption list authority through SB755 is terrible policy!
About the author: Gil Riviere represents House District 46, which encompasses Oahu’s North Shore, in Hawaii’s House of Representatives.
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