Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Sneaky House bill seeks to remove the iceberg that the Superferry ran into
by Larry Geller
Legislators greased the skids for the Hawaii Superferry to begin operation without the required environmental review. Later, the state Supreme Court taught them a lesson about bypassing state environmental law. HRS 343 is the iceberg that sank the Superferry (that plus its own unprofitability).
This session, the House leadership is attacking the very law that the legislature tried unsuccessfully to circumvent.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen issued a press release today about a dangerous bill that has been put on a fast track in the House by Speaker Calvin Say. Without her alert, this bill might have squeezed through.
The bill would create a method for exempting state or county projects from Hawaii’s environmental law. It sets up a mechanism to bypass the environmental review process of HRS chapter 343 at the whim of the governor or any mayor.
HB1893 makes it sound as though Hawaii’s environmental laws are the enemy of economic recovery. Check out the inflammatory language. The bill starts off “The legislature finds that the economic recovery of the State is in jeopardy.” And the solution, of course, is to sacrifice the environment as well.
Just what shape will Hawaii be in if we kill environmental protections? Both tourism, the economic engine that keeps the place going, and our quality of life, depend on, well, the quality of our environment.
The authors also have the chutzpah to try to block any action against the exemption. Get this:
(1) The exemption granted for a project under this Act shall not be invalidated; and
(2) There shall not be any retroactive application of chapter 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes.
Translated into English, this seems to mean “Take your lawsuits and shove ‘em.”
Let me give some ink (?) to Rep. Thielen’s press release, since it alerted me to this in the first place:
Honolulu – Hawai‘i State Representative Cynthia Thielen (R, 50th District: Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) was outraged by House Leadership's recent decision to force through a bill which would exempt certain State and County projects from the environmental review process. HB1893 was re-referred to the House Finance Committee (FIN), bypassing its original referral to the House Committees on Economic Revitalization & Business (ERB) and Energy & Environmental Protection (EEP).
"This leaves the public with only one opportunity to testify to House Members and completely removes decision making by those Representatives selected to oversee environmental issues," Thielen explained. "HB1893 is a horrible bill which would undercut three decades of environmental law in Hawai‘i; it 'torpedos' our environmental protections."
The bill seeks to change the Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 343, which established "a system of environmental review which will ensure that environmental concerns are given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations", by exempting government projects from this public review.
"I am just astonished that Leadership would try to circumvent the legislative process in this way and diminish the review of a bill which seeks to reverse thirty years of steadfast law. HB1893 could devastate our environmental and cultural resources and potentially lead to severe economic damage through uninformed planning decisions," declared Thielen.
While HB1893's purpose is stated to "promote economic revitalization" and "benefit the general public", this recent action will instead undermine the public's trust in government and have a negative effect on both our environment and economy.
The status page for the bill shows that no hearings are scheduled yet. You can email or call the chair of the House Finance Committee and ask that the bill not be heard, or send something more formal to the committee. Call 586-6200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . If you are a constituent, say so.
And if they do hear it, make sure you send in some testimony. It’s very easy, just click the box at the top of the status page and fire away.
This is reflective of my position that while the legislature is dominated by Democrats, the Hawaii Democratic party is a mixture of liberal, middle of the road and conservative politicians. This has happened because the Hawaii Republican party has been taken over by the right wing fringe and is no longer a major player. Getting the public to realize this could cause voters to vote based on a candidates political philosophy instead of the "D" after their name.