Ever since the state Environmental Council decided last August to stop meeting until the Lingle administration provided the funding and manpower necessary for the council to function properly, several government agencies have been stuck awaiting approval of revisions to their exemption lists.
Under the Hawai`i Environmental Policy Act, actions that propose to use state or county lands or funds, the Conservation District, shoreline areas, or historic sites, among other things, trigger an environmental review unless those actions are covered by an exemption included in a list approved by the state Environmental Council. Under the council’s rules, agencies are required to develop their own lists of specific types of actions that fall within eleven general classes of exempt activities.
Last year, after four of the council’s 15 members resigned citing poor treatment by the administration (see the June 2009 issue ofEnvironment Hawai`i), council chair Gail Grabowsky announced in August that the council would not meet again until the administration met several conditions: adequate travel funding for neighbor island council members; adequate staffing for its support agency, the Office of Environmental Quality Control; funding for an annual report; and the appointment of new council members to fill all vacancies. To date, none of the council vacancies has been filled. During the last legislative session, the only recommendation the administration made regarding the council’s members was to appoint current member Peter Cooper to another four-year term.
According to OEQC planner Rebecca Alakai, proposed amendments to the exemption lists of several government agencies sit in limbo at her office, including those for the state Agribusiness Development Corporation (which operates O`ahu’s Waiahole irrigation ditch and Kaua`i’s Kekaha irrigation system), the state Department of Accounting and General Services, the Kaua`i Transportation Agency, and the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Facility Maintenance and Department of Transportation Services. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has not yet submitted anything, but, Alakai says, she is aware that the department is preparing new lists to cover a number of its divisions, including the Division of Aquatic Resources.
ADC director Alfredo Lee says his agency would like to revise its 2003 list to cover certain land projects in the works. He said the Environmental Council had suggested changes a year or so ago to the ADC’s proposed exemption list revisions, but then stopped meeting before the list could be approved. Since then, Lee says, the ADC has just gone ahead with environmental assessments, but “we still want things a little clearer.”
Grabowsky, whose council term expires at the end of this month, says she is aware that some agencies are waiting for their lists to be approved. “When we stopped meeting in July 2009, nothing urgent was pending,” she says, adding that she hasn’t been alerted to any new urgent requests.
“We always thought that would be one of the pressures to bring us back,” but so far it hasn’t, Grabowsky says.
The recent Supreme Court decision forcing Kuilima Resort Company to revise the Turtle Bay Resort expansion’s environmental impact statement to reflect current conditions may put even more pressure on the administration to meet the council’s needs, she says.
“Agencies with old EISs may want the council to develop rules on shelf life,” she says. She added it’s something developers might want, as well.
For now, though, it doesn’t appear the council has plans to meet anytime soon.