Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Current incarnation of light pollution bill exempts Kauai, go figure

by Larry Geller

Kauai has long had a problem with Newell’s shearwaters blinded by bright lights crashing into power lines or buildings. The birds are an endangered species, and it’s to the credit of their many human protectors on the island that measures have been taken, including legal action, to help stop the slaughter.

This year, legislation to require proper lighting design and installation has made it through its last committee hearing. The bill would require properly designed lighting that shines only on the sports field (for example), and directs almost no light up to the sky.

SB2402, despite a few limitations, should help reduce the bird kill, limit sky brightness that plagues astronomy,  and save taxpayers the expense of paying the country’s highest electric rates to uselessly light up the sky. The current situation, where cheap, poorly designed fixtures direct much of their light upwards, demonstrates how far behind we are, technologically speaking. We waste money and kill birds. It’s easy to change our ways, and this bill could do it.

So isn’t it strange that language has been put into the bill that exempts the island of Kauai, and that island only?

DLNR testified that

On Kauai, for example, seabird fallout due to lights is a major threat contributing to the decline of the endangered Newell’s Shearwater, a Hawaiian seabird whose population is now on a trajectory to extinction, having declined by approximately 75% in recent years.

The University of Hawaii, through Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw and astronomer Richard J. Wainscoat, testified

Poorly designed and improperly shielded lights continue to be installed by government agencies, and a quick inventory of nighttime lighting shows that some of the most poorly shielded lighting is county and state lighting.

The exclusion for counties with populations under 100,000 (i.e., Kauai) is unwise. Kauai has endangered birds that are strongly affected by poor nighttime lighting. Poor lighting on Kauai has resulted in criminal prosecutions under the Federal Endangered Species Act. SB 2402 codifies good lighting practices, will minimize impact on birds, and therefore will help to protect the State from possible future expense in retrofitting or replacing poorly designed lighting that might otherwise be installed.

The change of effective date to July 1,2014 (section 5) appears to have been an error. We recommend restoring the original effective date for this act to July 1, 2012.

UH also objected to the bill’s requirement of a color temperature of 4000 degrees Kelvin as too high to protect birds. Yet the final version of the bill did not reduce the color temperature and still carries the effective date of July 1, 2014.

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