Hawaii lawmakers will take another crack at charging visitors green fees in an effort to protect Hawaii’s environment as tourism rebounds. 

A measure would require visitors to pay an as yet undetermined fee that would funnel money toward environmental programs, including conservation, natural resources protection and managing state parks and trails. 

“These green fees can provide a way to enhance job opportunities in terms of creating literally thousands of green jobs and elevating the overall visitor experience as well,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, who co-chairs the Environmental Legislative Caucus and introduced the bill. “We should all pay our fair share of protection of our island’s beauty and bounty, and obviously that includes our tourists.”

The bill is among 10 measures the Environmental Legislative Caucus introduced on Friday, proposals that follow the state’s declaration of a climate emergency last year.

Waikiki with what looks like less visitors and beachgoers on January 20, 2022 during a statewide Covid-19 surge. January 20, 2022
As tourism rebonds, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would charge a green fee to visitors. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In a news release, the caucus’s co-chair, Rep. Nicole Lowen, said, “The climate crisis is one of Hawaii’s most pressing issues, and the clock is ticking for Hawaii to take bold action.”

The bills aim to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, protect Hawaii’s natural resources and improve the quality of life, she added.

Carbon-Related Measures

Hawaii recently achieved its decarbonization goal by reducing carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, according to Lowen.

But a bill would update that goal by requiring an “economy-wide” greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 70% over 2005 levels by 2030. It would direct the state energy office to look at pathways and develop recommendations. The bill would also fund a study on how the state can reach its decarbonization goal. 

To help reduce carbon, another measure would create a carbon tax in an effort to reduce carbon emissions.

The revenue generated would be returned to residents in the form of a dividend or tax credit, according to Sen. Karl Rhoads. 

“Basically we’re returning all of the money that we collect with this tax,” Rhoads said.

The carbon tax measure has failed in the Legislature for three years.

However, Rhoads said that the “carbon tax still works.”

“The reason for that is because people will try to avoid buying items or services that are expensive,” he said. 

Waimanalo Agriculture land Koolau Mountains Aerial1.
Lawmakers are also introducing a measure that would “keep forests and working agricultural lands intact.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Another measure aims to help keep forests and working agricultural lands intact. It would provide “incentives for farmers to adopt practices that sequester carbon while supporting local agriculture.”

“We must do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint and become carbon negative as soon as possible,” Gabbard said. “And in striving to do this, it’s not enough to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another bill would mandate cost-effective energy efficiency measures. It would also require that construction of new state buildings include energy and water efficiency into the design, and use building materials that reduce carbon footprints.

Cesspools, Wildlife And Agriculture

The state’s 80,000 cesspools have been an ongoing issue, according to Lowen.

Another bill in the package would require cesspools to be converted when a property is sold along with a tax credit to help offset the cost.

We have a statutory mandate for them all to be converted by the year 2050, and the bill we’re introducing this year starts a process of attrition by requiring physical conversion at the point of sale of a property,” Lowen said.

The bill includes a fully refundable tax credit of either $15,000, $10,000 or $7,500 depending on the income level of the filer, she added.

Lawmakers will consider a bill that would create a habitat conservation plan for Hawaii’s native species. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Rep. David Tarnas, who is also in the caucus, introduced a bill that would create a habitat conservation plan to provide medical care and rehabilitation for wildlife injured due to natural causes or threats by people or climate change. 

“Renewable energy is important, but we have to protect our very important bird species and our native bat species,” Tanas said. 

Red Hill And The Green Amendment

Hawaii officials have called on the Navy to immediately suspend operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility amid water contamination that has raised health concerns.

Lawmakers introduced a resolution urging the Navy to decommission the Red Hill tank.

“The Red Hill facility sits over the ground aquifer which provides almost all of Oahu’s drinking water,” said Rep. Sonny Ganaden, who introduced the resolution. “In the next five years, there is an estimated 80% chance of another leak occurring.”

Another bill would create a green amendment, which would add “a provision to the Bill of Rights section of the constitution to recognize and protect the rights of all people to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environment.”

So far Pennsylvania, Montana and New York passed green amendments. Hawaii is one of 12 states that has put forward a green amendment bill, according to Gabbard. 

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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