Sunday, March 14, 2010

To the Relief of Many, House Committees Put the Breaks on Hawaii Environmental Reform Bill

As reported in Legislature to Hold Hearings on Environmental Reform Bill, the House Committees on Energy and Environmental Protection; Water, Land, and Ocean Resources; and Economic Revitalization, Business, and Military Affairs held a joint hearing on SB 2818, SD2 on March 9, 2010.

By way of background, the bill was first introduced in the Senate, where the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment created a working group to address concerns and to reach consensus on various unresolved issues related to the bill. As the working group continued its work, Senate version SB 2818, SD2, passed the Senate and crossed over to the House for its consideration.

The House committees decided that because "the working group has not yet finished its work . . . that passage of this measure in its present form would be premature," as reported in their joint Standing Committee Report No. 713-10.  At the joint House committee hearing, the committees received testimony in support of the bill from the Sierra Club-Hawaii Chapter.  It received testimony in opposition to the bill from the Attorney General, Department of Health, City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting, Alexander and Baldwin, Inc., Building Industry Association - Hawaii, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Hawaii Association of Realtors, Hawaii Developers Council, Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference, Hawaii's Thousand Friends, Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii, and The Outdoor Circle.  The University of Hawaii Environmental Center, Earthjustice, Historic Hawaii Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy offered comments.

After the joint House committee hearing, the House committees amended the Senate version of the bill, and passed it out as SB 2818, S.D. 2, H.D. 1, with the following changes:
  • Deleting Sections 2 through 9, which contain the proposed changes to Chapter 343, Hawaii Revises Statutes (HRS), relating to environmental impact statements;
  • Changing the effective date to July 1, 2010; and
  • Making technical amendments for the purposes of consistency, conformity, and style.
Substantively, these changes remove the controversial portions of the bill which would have significantly changed the process for preparing environmental review documents under the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA), HRS Chapter 343.   Instead, the House version of the bill focuses primarily on the composition of the Environmental Council and creates a special fund to help fund the activities of the Council and the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC).  The composition of the Council was amended by reducing it from 15 to 9 members, requiring that at least one person from each county sit on the Council, and requiring that the governor choose appointees from a list prepared by the legislature.

The next hearing on this bill is before the House Committee on the Judiciary on Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 2:15 p.m. in House conference room 325.  The bill must be heard by one more House committee, Finance, before it is reconciled by both houses and considered for passage.

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