Emissions bill in Lingle’s hands

Raising the bar for the nation to follow, Hawai‘i legislators recently passed the bipartisan Global Warming Solutions Act of 2007 to identify, regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We shouldn’t be debating whether global warming is real or not — the evidence is overwhelming,” Rep. Mina Morita said. “The discussions should be ‘how do we move in a direction that won’t negatively impact future generations.’”

Gov. Linda Lingle has until July 10 to act on House Bill 226, which cuts and caps greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020. In May, it passed by a vote of 48-2 in the House and 23-2 in the Senate.

“The legislation means our state is taking responsibility for its share of the problem when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions,” Sen. Gary Hooser said. “It sets an example.”

Hawai‘i and California now lead the nation in the fight to offset global warming. But Morita, a Democrat who has chaired the House Energy and Environment Protection Committee for nine years, says this bill will avoid the problems California faces.

“We’ve taken a measured approach in addressing the issue. California is struggling to develop the mechanisms to get where they want to go,” she said. “We’re trying to avoid this by being smart in our analysis of how to get where we want to get.”

The bill sets up a process for identifying and quantifying the sources of greenhouse gases around the state, Hooser said, and puts into place limits.

There are four major portions to the bill, according to Morita.

First, it makes a policy statement that Hawai‘i will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

This level is approximately 15 percent — or 15 million tons of greenhouse gases annually — less than what Hawai‘i now emits. It is 25 percent less than what the state would be emitting in 2020 under the “business as usual” scenario, according to the Sierra Club, on its Web site.

Secondly, the bill updates the greenhouse gas emissions inventory to establish an accurate baseline.

The third portion forms a greenhouse gas emissions reduction task force, Morita said, “so we understand the challenge thoroughly.”

Appointees of the state’s Business, Health, Economic Development and Tourism departments, with representatives from environmental organizations, the University of Hawai‘i’s climate change commission and the most effected industries — electrical utilities, refinery operations, ground transportation and maritime — will co-chair the 10-member panel, the bill states.

The fourth portion of the legislation establishes regulations.

“We want to regulate with the lightest touch possible in the most cost-effective way possible to get the results we want,” Morita said. “Whatever we develop needs to be unique to Hawai‘i because we have a unique set of circumstances being an island state.”

Abundant renewable power sources like wind, ocean thermal energy conversion, solar and wave energy are ways legislators say they hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on imported oil.

“We want Hawai‘i to be energy self-sufficient and improve our economic picture,” Morita said.

The representative added she plans on alternative energy sources becoming economic incentives for businesses and residents on the island.

“The bill is important globally as well as locally,” Morita said.

Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere and raising Earth’s temperature. If left alone, scientists say the consequences will be dramatic.

In her floor speech, Morita said the scientific consensus on global warming’s effects claims the Pacific Ocean may inundate coastal resort areas, saltwater intrusion may contaminate island aquifers, severe storms may increase, droughts may be prolonged and subtle shifts to island microclimates may rapidly increase extinctions of endangered plants and animals.

The legislation is also necessary, according to Cynthia Thielen, a Republican who served as the bill’s primary co-sponsor, because the Bush administration has failed to enact strong standards of environmental responsibility.

“We’re willing to do as a state what the federal government is not — recognize there is a problem, number one; and two, take steps to resolve that problem,” Hooser said.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com.

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