The recent decision by our federal judge to throw out Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491) as pre-empted is a huge blow to the efforts that we have been making towards a more sustainable agricultural industry for Hawaii, but not by any means the end. Obviously, there are likely to be appeals. There are still families and sensitive environments living downwind of these chemical company research stations. There are still families wondering if their children are in danger due to chemicals blowing in the wind. There are still unanswered questions, protection measures that are needed and solutions to be found, we aren’t giving up any time soon.
The smoke screen of pre-emption has deferred us back to a state system that has repeatedly and quite clearly failed, and often been unwilling to provide the necessary protection the community and environment needs. Like sending an abused child back to their abuser, this decision has returned the management of this issue back into the hands of those that have acknowledged on their own they are incapable of the regulation and management they are already mandated to do. How does this work for these issues, these families and these serious concerns? It doesn’t.
What is clear is that a huge percentage of the population, and a growing one, is concerned about the spraying of pesticides near schools and hospitals, they want restrictions and protections on any level of government. Even Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., on the news report recently, said he was concerned about the spraying of these poisons in these areas and that this wasn’t the end. The news is correctly classifying them as “chemical companies” more and more and a growing number of people are becoming educated about the corporations that we are dealing with, their histories, their legacies and their plans for our future, locally and worldwide.
Thirty precent of Kauai voters in the recent primary election came out to support a change in local agriculture and the way we treat/abuse the land, water and culture. That’s one third of voters, already grasping a concept of the issues we face here in this area and who are voicing their support for a new system. That’s a huge base to work from and a -huge group of thousands and thousands of supportive, engaged voters that want to see these changes. There is no drowning out one third, arguably more, of the islands concerns about this issue. There is no deferring forever, the people are speaking and rising and there is a path forward that is brighter for all.
Bill 2491 has united many people with common concerns about the experimentation that occurs in our backyards, it has helped us gain a dynamic understanding of what we are up against and who we need to deal with to get the answers we need. It taught us, a huge group of everyday citizens and locals here, how the system works, how to engage it, how to initiate change and how to come together.
Fern A Rosenstiel is the Ohana O Kauai director and environmental scientist.