Few Environmental Measures Approved At Close of 2017 Legislative Session

posted in: August 2017 | 0

The first session of the 2017 Legislature broke little new ground in terms of environmental law-making. About a dozen bills that nibbled at the edges of meaningful action made it across the finish line with the signature of Governor David Ige. One measure championed by many environmentalists that did pass both chambers – Senate Bill 1240, which would have limited aquarium-fish collection – was vetoed.

Here’s a synopsis of the measures that did pass into law:


Energy and Greenhouse Gases


Act 32, Paris Agreement: “Regardless of federal action, the legislature supports the goals of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and its effects on environments, economics, and communities around the world.” That language appears in the preface of House Bill 559, and when Governor Ige signed the measure into law last month, it resulted in national attention being focused on Hawai`i as the first state to adopt a measure committing to the greenhouse-gas reduction targets set in the Paris Accord following the decision of President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from that agreement.

The legislation extends the life of the existing Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Committee (ICAC), established in 2014, and gives it a new name: the Hawai`i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission (CCMAC). The ICAC has already developed a website (climateadaptation.hawaii.gov) and conducted public outreach events.

In addition, the new law tweaks and expands the charge of the ICAC/CCMAC. By 2023, it is to develop and provide to the Legislature and governor a comprehensive report on actions that have been undertaken to address climate-change impacts, with an update to be provided every five years thereafter.

Before all that, however, the commission is to report on the work of the ICAC over the last three years by December 31 of this year. Among other things, the report is to identify major areas of sea-level rise impacts affecting the state through 2050, and recommend planning, management, and adaptation for hazards associated with increasing sea levels.

Finally, the measure sunsets the committee (and the supporting law, Chapter 225P, Hawai`i Revised Statutes) on July 1, 2022, six months before the final report is to be given to the Legislature.

Act 57, GEMS Funds to Schools: This measure (House Bill 957) allows the state Department of Education to take out as much as $46.6 million in interest-free loans from the Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) fund, as part of the DOE’s “cool the schools” initiative. Last year, a bill to use GEMS funds for air-conditioning in classrooms fell to the argument that this would actually increase energy consumption rather than reduce it, as the GEMS program was established to do.

Act 57 calls for the GEMS funds now to be used to implement energy efficiency measures “to substantially reduce energy consumption and lower kW load, which may allow classrooms earmarked for the ‘cool the schools’ initiative to install air conditioners without requiring expensive and time consuming electrical upgrades.”

The DOE was given no appropriation for repaying the loan principal; instead, this is to be repaid from “savings resulting from reduced utility costs as a result of the implementation of energy efficient lighting and other energy efficiency measures.”

Act 33, Carbon Farming: This measure (House Bill 1578) sets up a task force that is to look into ways to “increase climate resiliency and improve carbon sequestration in Hawai`i.” The chairperson is the director of the Office of Planning, while other members are the chairperson of the Board of Agriculture; deputy director of the Department of Health’s environmental branch;  director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control; director of the University of Hawai`i’s Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy; administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife; an extension agent from the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH; representatives from the four counties appointed by their respective mayors; and three members jointly selected by the president of the state Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The task force’s preliminary report is due to the Legislature before the start of its 2023 session. Its final report is due two years later. The task force sunsets on June 30, 2025.


Water Issues


Act 5, Storm Water Management: This measure (House Bill 1509) amends the State Water Code (Chapter 174C of Hawai`i Revised Statutes). Language describing the element of the plan intended to protect water resources has been amended, so that the Water Resources Protection Plan must now also address “plans for storm-water management, reuse, reclamation, and remediation.”

The Hawai`i Farm Bureau and Land Use Research Foundation provided testimony strongly supporting the bill. Suzanne Case, chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Commission on Water Resource Management, testified that although the Department of Land and Natural Resources supports efforts to reclaim stormwater, the measure was unnecessary.  “To facilitate storm water projects and services, Act 42, Session Laws of Hawai`i 2015, authorized the counties to establish and charge user fees to create and maintain any storm water management system or infrastructure,” she stated. “We also note that each respective county Water Use and Development Plan will address the unique storm water reuse opportunities within its jurisdiction.”

House Bill 1509 moved through five committees (and three hearings) without a single amendment before being signed by the governor on April 26.

Act 125, Cesspools: The use of cesspools in Hawai`i has come under fire for years. The Environmental Protection Agency has cracked down on the state and counties for their ongoing use of gang cesspools well past the phase-out deadline, and now the Legislature is attempting to phase out private cesspools as well.

In this case, the deadline set by Act 125 (House Bill 1244) is a distant 33 years away, coming only on January 1, 2050. By that time, the law requires every cesspool user either to convert to a treatment system or to connect to a sewer.

But there are exceptions. If property owners can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the director of the Department of Health, that it is infeasible to upgrade their cesspool, they can get a pass. Legitimate reasons “shall include, but not be limited to,” small lot size, steep topography, poor soils, or “accessibility issues.”

The new law also broadens the pool of eligible property owners who can apply for assistance with eliminating cesspools. In addition to owners of cesspools that are near the shoreline or near drinking-water sources, owners of cesspools that impact drinking-water sources or recreational waters also qualify, as do those whose cesspools “are certified by a county or private sewer company to be appropriate for connection” to an existing sewer.


Invasive Species


Act 121, Albizia Removal: In 2014, the Legislature appropriated $1 million to support a program to mitigate hazardous situations on private land in non-emergency situations. In practice, this has mostly supported efforts of state workers or contractors to go onto private land to remove albizia trees.

As of last November, more than half that amount was still available and unencumbered. Without legislative action, authority to spend down the balance would have lapsed on June 30. House Bill 144 reauthorizes the expenditure of funds from the original appropriation.

Act 31, Rose-Ringed Parakeet: From a pair of these birds introduced into the wild on Kaua`i in the 1960s, the population has grown to several thousand, and it now causes more damage to crops than any other bird or mammal, the Legislature states in its prefatory language to House Bill 655. In addition, there are concerns over the noise they make, the feces spread below roosts, losses to businesses, and the potential for the birds to spread disease to humans, pets, and native wildlife.

Act 31 provides funds to the Department of Land and Natural Resources to support the DLNR’s work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center. The money is to help determine the current population size of the rose-ringed parakeet on Kaua`i, map sites where it roosts, describe its habitats and behaviors, estimate the damages to agricultural, commercial, residential, and natural areas caused by the bird, determine diseases it could carry, conduct trials on methods to discourage their breeding, and, finally, implement an effective control plan, “with an initial reduction target” of 500 birds.

And all this is to be done on a budget of $75,000.

Act 186, Coffee Berry Borer: By this measure, the Legislature extended the life of Act 105, passed in 2014, that underwrote a program to subsidize coffee growers who purchased pesticides containing a fungus that shows promise in the fight against the coffee berry borer beetle. Now coffee farmers can obtain up to $600 an acre each year, through 2021, to offset costs of controlling the pest.

— Patricia Tummons

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