Environmental Protection Is A Critical Need

Rep. Gil Riviere (R) (Schofield-Kahuku)

Rep. Gil Riviere (R) (Schofield-Kahuku)

During election years, politicians are typically known to play it safe and avoid controversial issues. Legislation may be moving quietly past the public this year, but there is plenty of controversy in the Capitol over efforts to create a state bank and to overturn important environmental protections.

The Legislature is rushing headlong toward repealing environmental laws in the name of fast tracking government projects. I support improving government efficiency, but I very much oppose blanket exemptions for large construction projects that could have significant, adverse environmental impacts.

Most directly under attack is the Special Management Area (SMA) Permit, which provides early disclosure of potential impacts to our coastlines. Several bills exempt airports, harbors and other state lands from SMA permits, shoreline setbacks and other permitting standards. Some allow the governor to waive the environmental review process completely for certain government projects.

The greatest mistake in all of this is that the state Office of Environmental Quality Control is fully staffed, with no backlog, waiting to assist state agencies on guidance of actions that could be exempt. Exemptions are available, but somebody needs to look at the proposed action. Some agencies are unwilling to make decisions on exemptions; they now want permanent exemptions, all the time, no matter the action. This would be very bad policy!

This heavy shift away from environmental protection is a major policy question that is not getting as much public discourse as it should.

Indeed, recent news articles have completely missed the topic, noting only that the Legislature is moving forward on streamlining state construction.

I believe the public remains committed to preserving and enhancing both our environment and our economy. It does not have to be one or the other.

Senate and House versions of legislation will be completed in a few precious weeks, and conference committees will rapidly revise legislation without public input before final votes and session closure on May 3. Now is the time to speak up, folks!

I am hopeful that enough concerned residents will take a moment to email their representatives and senators to tell them that the people of Hawaii still believe in environmental protection, and that they do not support blanket exemptions. Contact information for all House and Senate members and legislative details are available at capitol.hawaii.gov.

Please feel free to share your opinions with me by sending an email to repriviere@capitol.hawaii. gov, calling my office at 586-6380, sending a fax to 586-6381, visiting gilriviere.info, or stopping by for coffee and a snack in Capitol Room 319.