Early into his tenure, Hawaii Gov. David Ige notably rejected liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as a so-called “bridge fuel” to rely on while the state pursued an existence free of fossil fuels by 2045.

However, the two candidates vying to succeed Ige aren’t following that same path so far. Instead, at least one of them is open to LNG and the other is staying mum.

Nonetheless, Josh Green, the state’s current Democratic lieutenant governor, and Duke Aiona, its former Republican LG, would be starkly different leaders of the nation’s lone island state when it comes to addressing climate change and environmental challenges, based on their campaign statements.

Kauai is powered by one of only a few utilities in the U.S. that’s capable of running on 100% renewable energy most of the day. Josh Green and Duke Aiona have different views on the state’s goals to decarbonize by 2045. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2019

Aiona said this week that he would gladly embrace LNG as an option if it helps keep energy costs more affordable during the transition to 100% renewable energy sources.

Green, meanwhile, is staying vague and unclear on where he stands regarding LNG — his campaign repeatedly declined to say whether his policy would be to oppose the fuel as Ige has.

Green stated via a campaign spokesperson’s text on Wednesday that “LNG is not central to any of our current energy plans.” When asked to clarify whether LNG would be off the table, that spokesperson, Liz Skillin, repeated the same statement via text.

Gubernatorial candidates Duke Aiona and Josh Green shake hands after the Honolulu Civil Beat 'Know your candidate' event held at the Waiwai Collective.
Duke Aiona and Josh Green have both signaled they’re amenable to LNG as a “bridge fuel” as Hawaii moves toward being fully powered by renewable sources. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

LNG is a fossil fuel, although officials say it’s cleaner than coal or oil and releases fewer planet-warming carbon emissions.

Ige rejected LNG largely on the grounds that it would require enormous investment in infrastructure for a temporary means to supply the state with power. That stance helped bolster his support among the state’s prominent clean energy advocates and environmental groups.

Green has already been endorsed for governor by the Sierra Club of Hawaii. Green’s campaign said he wasn’t available this week to discuss the LNG issue, so it’s not clear why he has refrained from rejecting the fuel as Ige did.

Based on a plan outlined on his campaign website, Green would largely continue the ambitious project already underway to make Hawaii not just carbon-neutral but also carbon-negative by 2045, meaning the state would actually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

Green aims to accomplish that largely through policies to grow the state’s solar energy portfolio and boost electric vehicle use.

“We need to do even more in the coming years to … cut our dependence on fossil fuels and invest in renewable and sustainable energy in our state,” his issues page on climate and the environment reads.

Aiona, by contrast, called the 2045 goals established under Ige’s leadership “unrealistic.”

“It’s just a number that they put out there to make them feel good” and to please local environmental groups, Aiona said of Ige’s decarbonization goals.

He said that he supports the state’s full transition to clean energy – and he pointed out that an earlier version of Hawaii’s clean energy initiative, in which 70% of the state’s power would be drawn from clean, renewable sources, was launched when he was lieutenant governor as part of Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration.

Nonetheless, “the ultimate goal has to be lowering the cost of energy” for consumers, Aiona said.

He called the state’s recent closure of its last coal-fired power plant, a facility that released more than 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, “premature” and a “bad idea.”

“The question on everyone’s mind is when are we going to lower the cost of energy,” Aiona said.

Still, he considers the state’s phasing out of coal final and said that as governor he wouldn’t try to reverse it.

Officials who study the state’s energy policies say that weaning the state from fossil fuels will likely be good for both the environment and local consumers in the long run. Prices for fossil fuel sources such as coal and oil – shipped to the islands from overseas – remain volatile, largely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Energy generated locally in the islands will give consumers more price stability, said Claudia Rapkoch, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Energy Office. Further, the renewable projects that are coming on line are generating energy at prices “far lower” than the current retail rates, Rapkoch said.

Eventually, as renewables make up more of Hawaii’s energy portfolio, consumers should start to see the bills, now based on the highest rates in the country, start to trend down, Rapkoch said.

Renewable sources “aren’t just about the environment,” she said.

“It’s about breaking off” from volatile fossil fuel markets, helping customers better predict their power costs, and being more self-sufficient and in control as an island state.

Green’s Pro-Green Fee, Aiona’s Not

Aiona and Green also diverge on the notion of a visitor-impact fee, or “green fee,” of around $40 or $50 charged to tourists to help better safeguard Hawaii’s natural resources.

The idea of charging visitors a fee to help mitigate the extra burden they place on the environment has been considered for years, and Green is outspoken in his support.

On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor proposes a $50 fee for visitors that he estimates would raise some $350 million annually. Green’s website says the fee would not only be used to protect the environment and address climate change but also help pay for affordable housing.

Green has also suggested using the fee to help offset his proposed cuts of the state excise tax on food and medicine. The state Department of Taxation has estimated that a blanket exemption on all grocery sales would cost the state some $268 million a year.

Aiona opposes a Hawaii green fee.

Hanauma Bay Park visitors swim and enjoy the water.
Green and Aiona disagree on whether to create a visitor impact fee, or “green fee,” to better cover the impacts of visitors on Hawaii’s natural resources. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“It’s a tax, it’s not a fee,” he said Wednesday in describing the proposal. “I’m not opposed to impact fees – the impact fees that you have for parks and trails.” Aiona said he would support fees, similar to the one charged at Hanauma Bay, at other sensitive sites across the islands, such as Waipio Valley on Hawaii island.

“That may be a prime example of where an impact fee would be very beneficial. For everybody,” he said.

However, advocates of a green fee say that impact fees at isolated spots would result in “fragmentation,” where certain areas are cared for but not the state’s environment as a whole.

Some conservation advocates have proposed that visitors pay that fee in the form of an environmental license or permit – similar to hunting or fishing license. Such a mechanism could clear legal hurdles, said Carissa Cabrera, project manager for the grassroots coalition Hawaii Green Fee.

Cabrera said the group is encouraged that Green supports a green fee. However, she acknowledged that there are many details to hash out if Green wants to use those proceeds beyond climate and the environment.

“I think we’re in the best position we’ve been in” to make that fee a reality, she said.

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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