‘The clock is ticking’: Hawaiian lawmakers support environmental measures

Hawaii lawmakers will take another shot at charging visitors green fees in a bid to protect Hawaii’s environment as tourism rebounds.

One measure would require visitors to pay yet-undetermined fees that would channel money into environmental programs, including conservation, natural resource protection and management of state parks and trails.

“These green fees can provide a means to improve employment opportunities by literally creating thousands of green jobs and also improving the overall visitor experience,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, who co-chairs the Environmental Legislative Caucus. and introduced the bill. “We should all pay our fair share to protect the beauty and bounty of our island, and obviously that includes our tourists.”

The bill is among 10 measures the Environmental Legislative Caucus introduced on Friday, proposals that follow the state’s declaration of a climate emergency last year.

As tourism rebounds, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would charge visitors a green fee. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In a press release, caucus co-chair Rep. Nicole Lowen said, “The climate crisis is one of Hawaii’s most pressing issues, and time is running out for Hawaii to take bold action.

The bills aim to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, protect Hawaii’s natural resources and improve quality of life, she added.

Carbon-related measures

Hawaii recently achieved its decarbonization goal by reducing carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, according to Lowen.

But a bill would actualize this objective by demanding an “economy-wide” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 70% from 2005 levels by 2030. This would require the state emergency office to review the pathways and develop recommendations. The bill would also fund a study on how the state can achieve its decarbonization goal.

To help reduce carbon, another measure would be to create a carbon tax with the aim of reducing carbon emissions.

The revenue generated would be returned to residents in the form of a dividend or a tax credit, according to Senator Karl Rhoads.

“Basically, we give back all the money we collect with this tax,” Rhoads said.

The carbon tax measure has failed in the Legislative Assembly for three years.

However, Rhoads said the “carbon tax still works.”

“The reason is that people will try to avoid buying expensive items or services,” he said.

Waimanalo Farmland Koolau Mountains Aerial1.
Lawmakers are also introducing a measure that would “keep forests and working farmland intact.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Another measure aims to help keep forests and working agricultural land intact. It would provide “incentives for farmers to adopt practices that sequester carbon while supporting local agriculture”.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint and go carbon negative as soon as possible,” Gabbard said. “And by striving to do so, it is not enough to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another bill would impose cost-effective energy efficiency measures. It would also require the construction of new public buildings to include water emergencies and efficiency in the design, and to use building materials that reduce the carbon footprint.

Wealth wells, wildlife and agriculture

The state’s 80,000 cesspools are an ongoing problem, according to Lowen.

Another bill in the package would require cesspools to be converted when a property is sold with a tax credit to help offset the cost.

We have a statutory mandate for them all to be converted by 2050, and the bill we are introducing this year begins a process of attrition by requiring physical conversion at the point of sale of a property,” said Lowen.

The bill includes a fully refundable tax credit of $15,000, $10,000 or $7,500 depending on the taxfiler’s income level, she added.

Lawmakers will consider a bill that would create habitat conservation for native Hawaiian species. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Representative David Tarnas, who is also part of the caucus, introduced a bill that would create a habitat conservation plan to provide medical care and rehabilitation to wild animals injured due to natural causes or human threats or of climate change.

“Renewable energy is important, but we need to protect our very important bird species and our native bat species,” Tanas said.

Red Hill and the Green Amendment

Hawaii officials have called on the Navy to immediately suspend operations at the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility amid water contamination that has raised health concerns.

Lawmakers introduced a resolution urging the Navy to decommission the Red Hill tank.

“The Red Hill facility sits above the underground aquifer that provides nearly all of Oahu’s drinking water,” said Rep. Sonny Ganaden, who introduced the resolution. “Within the next five years, there’s about an 80% chance of another leak happening.”

Another bill would create a green amendment, which would add “a provision of the Bill of Rights section of the constitution to recognize and protect the rights of everyone to clean water, clean air, a stable climate, and a healthy environment.”

So far, Pennsylvania, Montana and New York have passed green amendments. Hawaii is one of 12 states that have introduced a green amendment bill, according to Gabbard.

Civil Beat’s climate change coverage is supported by the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Environmental Funders Group, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Marisla Fund, and the Frost Family Foundation.

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