For the first time in nearly a decade, the state Environmental Council’s 15 seats are full thanks to a slew of appointments by Gov. David Ige.
The council’s work in creating administrative rules for Hawaii’s environmental review process and monitoring the state’s progress in achieving environmental goals had occasionally stalled due to not having enough members to hold its monthly meetings.
It has generally operated under the radar but has made headlines in the past, especially when it weighed in during the Hawaii Superferry saga nine years ago. The council has sometimes raised the ire of developers but has languished in recent years.
“I encourage residents across the state to provide the Environmental Council with their perspectives on issues that affect the environment and development,” Ige said in a press release Wednesday.
“The volunteers on the Environmental Council are highly capable individuals who take their responsibilities seriously,” Ige said. “I thank them for their willingness to serve the public in this capacity.”
The appointments to the council include at least one person from each of the main Hawaiian islands except Niihau, and there are at least two from each county.
“Having members physically on the ground on each island to be a resource for those residents will improve our dialogue so that we may be better stewards for our islands and make them more sustainable,” Office of Environmental Quality Control Director Scott Glenn said in the release.
The council serves as a liaison between the office’s director and the public, the release said, and Glenn’s job involves advising Ige on environmental matters.
The environmental review process that Glenn facilitates is used to vet projects and programs proposed by private developers and government agencies. The review can be triggered in several ways, such as the use of state or county lands or funds, construction near a shoreline or building in a conservation district when discretionary government approval is required for the proposed action.
“I am excited to have a full slate of Council members for the first time in recent history,” Joseph Shacat, the council’s chair, said in the release. “Over the past few years, the Council has often struggled just to attain quorum at its meetings … I am very much looking forward to working with the new members and making meaningful progress on Council initiatives.”
Ige took office in December 2014 and by the following April there was growing concern over his not having filled key positions guiding land and water use policy, environmental protection and longterm planning and development.
The Office of Environmental Quality Control director at the time, Jessica Wooley, was in a similar holdover position, staying on past the end of her term as the governor searched for a replacement. Ige appointed Glenn in October 2015, making him the fifth person to lead the office in five years, Glenn said.
Personality conflicts and politics have plagued the office for years. It’s sometimes viewed as a barrier to development projects even though the director only acts as a facilitator of the environmental review process. Project approval generally lies with the government agency that has oversight over the permits being sought.
The council came into the spotlight in 2007 when it got involved in the now-defunct Hawaii Superferry.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration exempted the interisland car-and-passenger ferry project from an environmental assessment in 2005 despite a state law that triggered an assessment because $40 million in taxpayer money was going to be spent on harbor improvements.
The council issued a resolution in 2007 saying an environmental review clearly was needed. Months later, the state Supreme Court came to the same conclusion, and the ferry service ultimately went out of business.
In 2009, three council members resigned, citing Lingle’s disregard for the council and inadequate staffing levels.
Shacat has described the council’s work as a “tough job,” but that the members are committed to doing the right thing and looking at proposed projects and programs from a balanced perspective.
On Dec. 9, Ige made his most recent appointee to the council, Theresita Kinnaman of Kauai.
The council was one of many boards that Ige, like past governors, had struggled to fill. There are more than 170 boards and commissions in Hawaii, with almost 1,700 seats in all.
The council appointees (and islands they’re from) currently include Shacat (Oahu), Roy Abe (Oahu), Mary Begier (Hawaii), Stephanie Dunbar-Co (Molokai), Glenn (Oahu), Barbara Makaala Kaaumoana (Kauai), Paulette Kaanohi Kaleikini (Oahu), Ian Robin Kaye (Lanai), Kinnaman (Kauai), Robert Parsons (Maui), Charles Prentiss (Oahu), Ron Terry (Hawaii), Puananionaona Thoene (Oahu), Michael Tulang (Hawaii) and Nicole Mahina Tuteur (Oahu).
The Senate has confirmed all but six members but is expected to do so next legislative session, which starts in January, Glenn said. Those still needing to go through confirmation include Begier, Dunbar-Co, Kay, Kannaman, Thoene and Tulang.
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