PLDC not exempt from environmental laws, and why that may not matter

A legal analysis by a legislative agency confirms that the new corporation is not exempt from environmental review. But other laws which protect land use don't apply to the new corporation.

Ikaika M Hussey

The Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan body of the state legislature, said in a memo Wednesday that the Public Land Development Corporation is not exempt from environmental regulations.

The memo was requested by Senator Les Ihara, the sole “no” vote to the PLDC in the 2010 state senate.

The LRB writes:

We note that concern has been expressed whether the PLDC is exempt from environmental laws. However, chapter 171C, HRS, does not explicitly exempt the PLDC from laws regarding environmental impact statements.

Under chapter 343 of the state code, projects that meet certain “triggers” – the use of state or county lands or money, conservation lands, shoreline areas, historic sites, anything in the Waikiki special district – are subject to environmental review. The law lays out requirements for public hearings, an evaluation of the impact of health and the environment, and the process by which a decision is made on how to proceed.

But chapter 343 only lays out a process for environmental review. The law itself doesn’t prohibit projects that have a negate environmental impact.

A different set of laws allow state and county agencies to stop projects which have harmful environmental effects, by refusing to issue permits. For many of those laws, yes, the PLDC is exempt. Again the LRB:

Section 171C-19, HRS, exempts the PLDC from statutes, ordinances, charter provisions, and rules relating to land use. Land use is generally governed by chapter 205, HRS. Accordingly, the PLDC would not be subject to the permissible use restrictions for lands designated as urban, rural, agricultural, and conservation.

The LRB also notes that the PLDC is exempt from the application and processing procedures of the Land Use Ordinance, and other restrictions on development in coastal zone areas:

The PLDC is likely also exempt from chapter 20SA, HRS, which regulates coastal zone management. Section 20SA-S, HRS, requires agencies to enforce the policies and objectives of the chapter and any rules adopted pursuant thereto. The objectives include the protection and preservation of historic resources, scenic and open space resources, valuable coastal ecosystems, beaches, and marine resources.

So while the PLDC and its projects would themselves be subject to an environmental review process, the few mechanisms available to stop deleterious projects are indeed disabled by this law.