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Committees Remove Clauses From Environmental Bill

March 23, 2012, 4:04 PM HST
* Updated March 24, 9:14 AM
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Two committees in the state House have amended a proposed bill that would have exempted state construction projects from a variety of environmental regulations.

Senate Bill 755, which raised the ire of the state’s environmental community, would have given the state Office of Planning authority over Special Management Area (SMA) permits for state projects. SMA permits are currently issued by county planning commissions.

It would also have allowed the governor and each county’s mayor the power to establish lists of government projects that would be exempt from state law requiring environmental assessments.

The bill was amended Wednesday to remove both the SMA provision as well as the power to establish EA-exempt projects, according to a report issued Thursday by the committees on Water, Land & Ocean Resources, and on Energy & Environmental Protection.

Those testifying against the language proposed for the bill included Jesse Souki, director of the state Office of Planning. Souki said because his office is in charge of administering the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, the bill would put his office at risk of losing federal funding and present a potential liability for the state.

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Souki also said his office is not set up as a permitting entity, and doesn’t have the resources to take over SMA permitting activities from the counties. He said making such a change would overturn a development process that has been in place since the 1970s.

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Gary Hooser, director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, submitted testimony saying he was strongly opposed to the draft measure.

Changing the current system of requiring environmental assessments for government projects would “set a very bad precedent,” Hooser said, and would also “do little or nothing to streamline or speed the process,” which was supposed to be the intent of the bill.

Others organizations opposed to the bill’s wording included the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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Also in opposition was the appointed Environmental Council, which serves as a liaison between the public and the state on environmental matters.

Testimony in support of the bill was submitted by the state Department of Transportation, The Land use Research Foundation of Hawaii and several building industry associations.

The bill next goes to the House Finance Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing on the measure.

The bill carried a focus of economic development when it originated during the 2011 legislative session where its contents were changed to allow a form of gambling known as “peer-to-peer.” It was further amended this session to include the changes to environmental regulations.

 

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