Friday, February 12, 2010

Hawaii Environmental Reform Bill Passes Second Senate Committee

SB2818, which proposes a major overhaul of Hawaii's environmental impact statement laws, passed its second hurdle as it wends its way through the Hawaii State Legislature. The bill is part of a package of bills resulting from Act 1, passed in 2008, which requested a full examination of Hawaii's environmental review system.  Act 1 culminated in the University of Hawaii Environmental Review Study released at the beginning of the current legislative session.

On February 9, 2010, the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment ("ENE") recommended that SB2818 pass with amendments. On February 10, 2010, the Senate Committee on Water, Land, Agriculture, and Hawaiian Affairs ("WLH") also recomended passage of SB2818.

On February 12, 2010, ENE and WLH filed a joint report (Stand. Com. Rep. No. 2333), which recommends (1) passage of SB2818 on Second Reading, as amended (SB2818 SD 1), and (2) referral to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means ("WAM"). WAM is the last of three Senate committees that SB2818 must be heard in before it crosses over to the House for further consideration.

Stand. Com. Rep. No. 2333 lists the following changes to SB2818:
(1) Removing the transfer provisions for the Office of Environmental Quality Control and the Environmental Council to move to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and leaving the Office and Council under the Department of Health;

(2) Increasing the membership of the Environmental Council from seven to nine members;

(3) Including a session law to clarify that present members of the Environmental Council shall serve through June 30, 2012, or until new members are appointed and confirmed;

(4) Clarifying when an environmental assessment shall be required;

(5) Clarifying that the mitigation monitoring report is a disclosure document that requires the approving agency to report on permit mitigation monitoring five and ten years after the completion of the record of decision;

(6) Adding a definition of "significant adverse environmental effect" for clarity;

(7) Increasing the number of years that an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement is valid from seven to ten years;

(8) Changing the effective date to July 1, 2010 for the amendments to chapter 341 and section 343-6, Hawaii Revised Statues, and keeping the effective date for the remaining amendments to chapter 343 at July 1, 2012; and

(9) Making technical, nonsubstantive changes for the purposes of style, clarity, and consistency.
In making its recommendations, the joint committee report notes that
[t]he [University of Hawaii Environmental Review Study] proposed that Hawaii update, refocus, and streamline its environmental review system by replacing the current "project trigger" screen, which encourages late review and eleventh hour public participation, with a new "earliest discretionary approval" screen to encourage early review and public participation. Under this measure, environmental review will apply to major government actions and to private actions tied to an agency discretionary approval process. To increase predictability, agencies will maintain public lists of major discretionary actions that require review and those ministerial actions that do not.
According to the joint committee report, one organization supported SB2818, while thirteen organizations including state and county agencies opposed the bill. Excerpts of that testimony are listed in Hawaii Environmental Reform Bill Passes Committee with Amendments.

For more on environmental issues and the legislature, see Legislative Updates and Environmental Law.

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