‘Red tape’ is a red herring when it comes to protecting our environment

Judging from a variety of not so very subtle signals coming out of the legislature, the 2012 legislative session will feature a full frontal assault on environmental protections.

Framed under the banner of eliminating “regulatory barriers” in order to stimulate economic development and create jobs, numerous bills to dismantle important environmental protections are forthcoming and will be pushed hard.

Lawmakers will be in an untenable position. Hearing rooms will be packed with construction workers wearing bright orange t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Jobs Now” and countered with like numbers of environmental supporters sporting equally bright green “Keep the Country, Country” t-shirts.

Behind the scenes, in the hallways, and in private meetings, large landowners and developers (who will not be wearing t-shirts) will push their agenda to increase profits by removing “regulatory barriers” and “red tape” – code words for environmental and public interest protections. But as we’ve seen throughout the country, while increased environmental degradation and increased profits are guaranteed, increased employment certainly is not.

Red tape is a red herring. Without question, the vast majority of projects that fall under Hawaii’s environmental review law, Chapters 341 and 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) go forward without delay or legal challenge. Yes, when someone attempts to circumvent the law or avoid doing what is obvious, pono, and in the public interest, the project may end up in court or even on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

My experience as the Director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control is that most do not really understand the law.

Chapter §341-1 states: “The legislature finds that the quality of the environment is as important to the welfare of the people of Hawaii as is the economy of the State.”

Chapter 343 simply requires reviewing certain proposed actions involving the public interest in order to disclose potential environmental impacts. These projects involve public funds, public lands, or sensitive/special areas. In other words, the law protects the public interest by ensuring wise use of our precious natural resources. Private projects on private lands that do not involve the public interest are not affected.

Critics of Chapter 343 will often speak of the very small “manini” projects that have no environmental impact whatsoever and yet are forced to go through an onerous, time-consuming and expensive environmental review process. This is flat out just not true.

Any project expected to have no or negligible environmental impacts can be exempted from the process in a simple, fast, and straightforward manner. This can be completed in one day and on a single sheet of paper. In fact, the vast majority of projects in Hawaii are exempted in just this way.

If the impacts are more than negligible but not likely to be significant, then an EA is needed. Significance can mean irrevocably committing a natural resource, curtailing the range of beneficial uses of the environment, or adversely affecting the economic welfare, social welfare, or cultural practices of the community and State. If impacts are expected to be significant, a full environmental impact statement (EIS) is required. Less than a dozen or so projects a year, at most, go on to a full EIS.

But for EAs and EISs, the law only requires the disclosure of impacts, suggested mitigations, and alternatives. It does not approve or deny a project, does not grant any permits, and does not require any permit conditions. It is an informational document that “discloses the environmental effects of a proposed action…on the economic welfare, social welfare, and cultural practices of the community and State…”

Our goal, our mission and our actions should be focused on the creation of good jobs and a strong economy that sustains, protects and honors our social, cultural, and environmental welfare. Anything less sells short the future of our children.

Gary Hooser – http://www.garyhooser.com

Published on January 22, 2012 in Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person. I presently serve now as a volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org In a past life I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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7 Responses to ‘Red tape’ is a red herring when it comes to protecting our environment

  1. elaine says:

    This was very well clarified.
    Thank you.

  2. elaine says:

    Hi Gary,
    Can you give a headʻs up on any bills the public might want to be aware of?

    • garyhooser says:

      Hello Elaine and thank you for the comments. There will be a lot of Bills and I will have a hard time keeping up with them myself. Various environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Kahea will likely be maintaining lists so if you can hook up with them that would be good also. But I will try to at least put out a list every once in a while and alert people like yourself when I can. I will probably do this via facebook and maybe this blog when I can. Important: You can go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov and sign up for automatic notifications, you can read the Bills and submit testimony easily also. You probably already know this but is good to spread the word. Two of the worst Bills I have seen so far are these two…but I only started looking yesterday!
      * HB1870 Exempts all state agencies, except State DOT from all building codes and permitting requirements

      * HB1893 appears to exempt from Chapter 343 environmental review majority of state/county construction – all roads, harbors, airports and public buildings for starters

  3. elaine says:

    Thank you, Gary. Appreciate it.
    These two bills look like they are customized for Abercrombieʻs public/private proposals so he push private development through on public lands and satisfy his friends.
    Did you happen to see the Demand Notice served by Henry Noa on all legislators, county mayors and Abercrombie?

    • garyhooser says:

      To be clear, these two Bills originated in the House of Representatives and as far as I know they are not part of a Administrative or Executive Branch initiative. I do not believe I saw the demand notice but will check at my office.

  4. Nawahine says:

    This is a double standard for sure. While our county building code hearings happened a few months ago the new codes for home owners are so strict and outrageous they make it nearly impossible for regular folks to live. The fines are very strict and code violations are now punishable by jail time and being convicted as a felon. The outcry at the hearing was so intense the plan went back to committee for review. Six hours of testimony and over sixty people spoke.
    Not one in favor of the new building codes. Two sets of rules being rolled out without a blink.
    The rulers seem to be oblivious to the double dealing and exemptions they are complicit in crafting. Is there a way to track the legislators and their voting patterns? We need as a community to get them in line and keep them there.

  5. cloudia says:

    100% Agree with you, Gary!

    Warm Aloha from Waikiki
    Comfort Spiral

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