Climate Change, Resource Protection Addressed in 2021 Legislative Actions

posted in: September 2021 | 0

The 2021 Legislature may not be remembered for actions that will have sweeping, dramatic impact on Hawaiʻi’s environment. Still and all, a number of bills that will push the state closer to a cleaner, sustainable future did manage to cross the finish line and be signed into law.

Climate Change and Green Energy

Three years ago, the state Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission recommended that the Legislature require properties offered for sale in areas susceptible to sea level rise disclose this fact to potential buyers. Bills that would have accomplished this failed in 2019 and 2020, but this year, Senate Bill 474 was finally approved and became Act 179 when signed by Gov. David Ige on July 7.

State law (HRS Section 508D-15) already requires sellers disclose to buyers if the property offered for sale is within a flood zone, near a military or public airport, or in a designated tsunami inundation area. The new law adds to these four factors a fifth: whether the property lies “within the sea level rise exposure area as designated” by the state climate change commission.

The law will take effect May 1, 2022.

Three bills – House Bill 1318, HB 1149, and HB 243 – effect a reorganization of government agencies that is intended to consolidate responsibility for overseeing efforts to respond to the challenges of climate change. HB 1318 shifts the Office of Environmental Quality Control from the administrative lap of the Department of Health over to the state Office of Planning. “[I]mproved integration of land use planning and environmental policy decision-making will enhance state government agencies’ ability to implement climate change adaptation measures to address sea level rise and more frequent and intense storm events, increase clean energy production, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the legislation states.

HB 1149 places the state Land Use Commission under the administrative umbrella of the Office of Planning, which itself is renamed the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development. HB 243 adds requires the office to “identify existing and planned facilities that are vulnerable to seas level rise, flooding impacts, and natural hazards; assess options to mitigate the impacts of sea level rise to those facilities; and submit annual reports to the governor, Legislature, and Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission regarding vulnerability and mitigation assessments for state facilities and progress in implementing sea level rise and disaster resiliency considerations.”

It also amends the state Planning Act, adding “sustainable development, climate change adaptation, and sea level rise adaptation” to the list of objectives in plans for state facilities.

Senate Bill 932 opens up the state’s Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) fund to allow state agencies to borrow from it to “finance their purchase option under existing energy performance contracts and power purchase agreements … with the option to utilize savings to finance the installation of electric vehicle charging systems and lease or purchase electric vehicles.”

In addition, it replaces the existing building energy efficiency revolving loan fund with a “clean energy and energy efficiency revolving loan fund,” intended to “finance a broad range of clean energy technologies,” beyond those specified in the earlier fund.

The Hawaiʻi Green Infrastructure Authority is charged with administering both the GEMS fund and the new revolving fund.

House Bill 1333 acknowledges the environmental problems that are anticipated to arise when clean energy technology reaches the end of its life and tasks the Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute, at the University of Hawaiʻi, with determining the best practices for disposal, recycling, or secondary use of the state’s clean energy products, and assessing the scope of products and materials (i.e., solar panels, batteries, and glass) that will need to be disposed of or recycled.

The study should also determine whether a disposal or recycling fee should be charged.

An interim report is due before the start of next year’s legislative session, while a final report is to be delivered before the 2023 session.

Aquatic Resources

Several acts relate to aquatic resources.

House Bill 1016 relates to commercial marine fishing licenses. At present, anyone who sells even a part of their catch needs to obtain a commercial fishing license. Also, anyone who works on board a commercial fishing vessel must obtain a commercial license. The existing commercial marine license laws, the bill states in its findings section, “can be unnecessarily burdensome on boat-based fishers” while placing “logistical and financial burdens on vessel captains … and can lead to confusion regarding who is responsible for submitting commercial catch reports.”

To address this, the bill does away with the requirement that all crew members have their own commercial licenses.

The financial impact to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources will be negligible with respect to small-scale fishers. But when it comes to the 140 or so longline vessels, the impact is much greater. Each vessel has multiple crew members, so the sale of just one license per vessel instead of as many as 10 per year could represent a substantial loss of license fees.

The question of just how the division will deal with this shift in fee structure was put to Dan Dennison, senior communications officer for the DLNR.

The division, he replied plans to pursue rule changes that will allow it to charge longline vessels a higher fee.

HB 1018 gives the DLNR authority to adopt rules requiring anyone wishing to fish with lay nets to first obtain a permit. As stated in the findings section of the new law, “despite detailed lay net rules implemented by the department … the illegal and irresponsible use of lay nets continues with adverse impacts to both fishery resources and protected species.”

HB 553 criminalizes the intentional capture and killing of sharks in state waters.

HB 1019 establishes the Ocean Stewardship Special Fund. Deposits into the fund are to be made from user fees associated with commercial ocean tourism operations, initially set at $1 per passenger; compensation for damages to reefs or other marine resources; and fines collected for violations of rules relating to marine resources, among other revenue sources. Money from the fund is to go to support the conservation, restoration and enhancement of marine resources. The act takes effect upon its approval (June 8), but the collection of the passenger fees is not to start until January 1, 2024.

Finally, there is Senate Bill 1313. This requires the Department of Land and Natural Resources to restock the Wahiawa reservoir with northern largemouth bass and/or butterfly peacock bass by January 1, 2023. 

— Patricia Tummons

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