In his 2010 A New Day in Hawaiʻi plan, Governor Abercrombie began by explaining just how crucial the environment is to a thriving Hawaiʻi. The environmental concerns Hawaiʻi faces today will only intensify as climate change and development accelerate.
Abercrombie’s strategy for Hawaiʻi prioritises issues of energy, food production, invasive species, watershed management, waste disposal and the protection of environmental resources. After four years, this is how the state’s performance stacks up against his plan:
As a spearhead for his efforts, the governor planned to increase the resources of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). A major part of the New Day plan is his “Watershed Initiative,” which aims to protect ecological keystones from coastal wetlands to native forests.
In the 2012–13 biennium budget, annual funding for DLNR hovered around $115 million, while the 2014–15 budget brings it up to around $130 million.
In 2013 he announced $3.5 million in general funds and $5 million in general obligation bonds for watershed initiatives. For FY2015, the DLNR budget details an additional $8.5 million for watershed initiatives.
Another major point was defending native ecology from invasive species resurgent throughout Hawaiʻi. Abercrombie’s plan seeks to combat the threat to watersheds and agriculture posed by the infiltration of invasive species.
The Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council (HISC), an extension of the DLNR, is responsible for much of the detection and control of newly arrived and newly detected species. Early detection, research and eradication are major projects of the council. The budgets for this council increased from $2 million in 2010 to $2.6 million in 2014.
However, calculations of project costs for “Detection and Control” from 2011–13 was around $830,000; in 2014, the last year in Abercrombie’s term, there has been a sudden increase in estimated costs, jumping to $1.1 million. In FY2014–15, the biennium budget notes a $1 million increase to the DLNR budget for the HISC.
The New Day plan detailed Abercrombie’s dedication to protecting Hawaiʻi’s marine resources and fisheries. He explained the need to “appropriately support and regulate economic activities; acknowledge, respect and perpetuate hunting, fishing…”
However, fisheries—especially those in Kauaʻi and Niʻihau waters—are under threat from overfishing and pollution. Residents of Niʻihau have left their island to vocalize the potential jeopardy and existing damage to their livelihoods. Senator Clayton Hee introduced a bill to protect Niʻihau’s marine resources, however no executive action was taken to protect these endangered resources.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR), governing body of DLNR, has granted a hearing to decide on the creation of a subsistence fishing area to protect fish stocks and support Native Hawaiian subsistence in Hāʻena, Kauaʻi.
A Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit (CFEU) was established in 2013 to protect 13 miles of coastline in north Maui. The unit issues citations and conducts investigations into illegal activities. CFEU has received positive feedback from the public and is expanding to include public participation and education. The boat used by the CFEU was not provided by DLNR, but by a private donation.
One of Abercrombie’s points in his New Day plan was protecting cultural environmental resources and traditional cultural practice.
The proposed Thirty-Metre Telescope (TMT) project has created the most prominent environmental and cultural dispute. Abercrombie has thrown his full support behind the $1.3 billion project. Mauna ā Wākea, upon which the TMT would stand, is one of the most sacred sites for Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians); it is also acknowledged as one of the most pristine and valuable environmental locations in the world. Multiple parties and interests vocalize constant opposition against the TMT’s environmental impacts and against the way in which revenue would be gathered from it. Abercrombie continues to support the project and has not facilitated any reconciliation or consultation with cultural practitioners.
Abercrombie’s plan also describes environmental initiatives relating to energy, alluding to the main factor in global climate change: greenhouse gasses accumulated from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. To address this issue from a production standpoint he referred to the plan’s section on energy. Click here to see how he stacks up on energy consumption.
Abercrombie’s main energy initiative featured in his accomplishments publication is the Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) plan, which provides assistance to low- or middle-income households to install solar panels for electric generation. The plan awaits implementation and requires cooperation from electric companies if households are to feed electricity back into the grid via these solar instillations.
87 percent of electricity was produced from coal and oil in 2011 yet, despite Abercrombie’s GEMS plan, at the end of Abercrombie’s term in 2014, that figure had only been reduced to 86 percent.
Originally passed by the legislature in 2007 under the Lingle administration, Act 234 was intended to take effect in 2012 and require a 25 percent drop in emissions from utility companies. The Department of Health was consulted on the implementation of Act 234, and eventually turned out the modified 16 percent reduction rule in 2013.
Act 234 has sat—unsigned—in the governor’s inbox since that time in 2013. The new rules would oblige strict emissions reductions of utilities, leading some environmentalists to speculate the governor’s resistance is due in part to pressure from special interests. The governor’s office states the lag is due to the complexity and number of regulations.
2011 figures show that electricity generation only accounted for 38.5 percent of emissions while transportation emissions contributed 51.3 percent for a total 19 million metric tonnes of emissions.
Abercrombie’s own 2014 achievements report did not name an environmental accomplishment on transportation emissions.
Improving waste disposal
Abercrombie also intended to strengthen Hawaiʻi’s waste disposal, calling for a comprehensive state-wide plan in addition to protecting disposal systems from natural disasters. These concerns originate from previous weather disasters and management lapses resulting in sewage spills. Also on the radar are landfills and their placement in Waiʻanae: a location already housing Oʻahu’s largest power plant and an area with a high population of Native Hawaiians and generally lower income families.
A measure passed by the Hawaiʻi legislature calls for the establishment of an environmental court similar to the family court system. This court would hear matters including waste management. However, the measure sits unsigned on Abercrombie’s desk since May 1 of this year.
Worries continue over Hawaiʻi’s sewage infrastructure and treatment. Sewage spills happen several times a year, with one occurring earlier this month.
As a major environmental concern, these facilities exhibit ongoing vulnerability despite Abercrombie’s intention to fortify them. Sewage and solid waste continues to pose a threat to Hawaiʻi’s oceans, land, and residents.
A large rainfall in 2011 resulted in a landfill rupture of hazardous waste into the ocean off the coast of Leeward Oʻahu. Recent developments suggest corruption and cover-up on the part of Waste Management Inc., the company managing Oʻahu’s municipal landfill. Many have sighted this as a reminder of the ongoing need for greater state oversight and involvement in solid and sewage waste management.
While Abercrombie has increased resources to the DLNR and other bodies charged with protecting Hawaii’s precious natural resources, he has had little success reducing emissions or improving Hawaii’s serious waste-disposal problem.