The Senate Water and Land Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Carleton Ching, Gov. David Ige’s pick to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources, for Wednesday, March 11 at 10 a.m.

The hearing, which will include public testimony, will take place at the State Capitol in room 229.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Laura Thielen, will vote on whether or not to approve Ching’s nomination, though the vote is purely advisory.  The full Senate will then take up Ching’s nomination.

Carleton Ching candidate DLNR.  9 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum

Carleton Ching

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige’s nomination of Ching to lead DLNR immediately sparked opposition from local environmental groups and critics who find his background in land development troubling, as well as his lack of experience in the protection and conservation of natural resources — DLNR’s stated mission. As head of DLNR, Ching would also chair the powerful land board and water commission.

Ching is currently on leave from Castle & Cooke, one of Hawaii’s major landowners and developers, while he awaits confirmation.

Numerous environmental groups issued statements on Wednesday expressing their continued opposition to Ching’s nomination in light of the scheduled hearing.

“DLNR deserves an expert at its helm,” Marti Townsend executive director of The Outdoor Circle, said in a statement to the media.  “After marathon meetings with community leaders over the last month, Mr. Ching still has not demonstrated a command of the subject matter.”

Ching was also criticized for his tenure as president and vice president of the Land Use Research Foundation in a joint statement signed by The Outdoor Circle, Hawai‘i’s Thousand Friends, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Conservation Council of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action, Friends of Lana‘i, Sierra Club, and Hawai‘i Progressive Democrats.

Ching was president of the lobbying group in 2008 and vice president from 2009 — 2010, in addition to later serving on its board.

The joint statement from environmental groups said that LURF had fought to reduce critical habitat designations and conservation areas; successfully lobbied to loosen reviews of development projects before DLNR’s State Historic Preservation Division; and lobbied the state health department to erode protections for native Hawaiian rights, historic preservation, and coastal zone management.

As controversy over the nomination has swelled, Ige hasn’t said much about the reasons behind his decision to tap Ching. But Ching’s supporters have emphasized that his expertise in development could help DLNR better manage its large landholdings. He’s also widely seen as likable.

At a press conference earlier this month, Ige said, “I like Carleton’s heart. I know he understands, if he was fortunate enough to get confirmed by the Senate, that he understands that he works for the people of Hawaii.”

Civil Beat columnist Ian Lind wrote on Wednesday that the Ige administration is squandering valuable political capital on the Ching nomination. Lind also criticized Ige for failing to be open about the reasons behind his decision to tap Ching.

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