Resist Trump, redouble government oversight of public lands

Resist. What does that mean if you are a government official in Hawaii in the time of Trump? I’d argue that it means we redouble our efforts to live by and enforce our own state and county laws, and especially our excellent Constitution.

Hawaii is blessed with a strong Constitution that defines the ‘aina as a public trust.

Article 11.1 of the Hawai‘i State Constitution says:

“For the benefit of present and future generations, the State and its political subdivisions shall conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural beauty and all natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals and energy sources, and shall promote the development and utilization of these resources in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the self-sufficiency of the State.

“All public natural resources are held in trust by the State for the benefit of the people.”

In this time of crisis, we cannot afford to betray this sacred public trust.

The good news is that there are laws, rules and ordinances in place to help our elected and appointed officials fulfill that trust.

One of the most important is the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, or HEPA, found in the Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 343.

Chapter 343 requires an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement of development and commercial activity that may significantly impact public resources (public lands, conservation zoned lands, coastlines, wastewater and/or public funds).

It is worth noting that the law allows “exemptions” for small developments and those actions where the expected environmental impacts are minimal, but those exemptions need to be granted, not assumed.

It is important to note that while a small action or small development in one location may have minimal to no environmental impacts, that same small action or development in another location might indeed have significant potential impacts.

An example would be the building of a park restroom facility. Building a small restroom facility connecting to an existing sewer system in an urban park setting may have minimal impacts while building a large facility or multiple small facilities in a remote conservation or wilderness area and needing to construct a related wastewater system and parking lot may indeed have significant environmental impacts.

In the first instance an exemption will likely be provided, or at the most an EA may be required, but in the second, a full EIS is called for.

Chapter 343 makes clear that more than just direct impacts have to be considered. Indirect, and cumulative, long-term impacts also need to be evaluated. In the case of the restroom example the direct impact is the disturbing of the soil, construction activity and perhaps the visual impact of the building.

The secondary impact might be the harm to native birds by the lights left on in the evening or the noise generated by frequent or constant use. The cumulative impact could be the long-term wastewater disposal issue. All of these impacts must be reviewed.

Even before Trump, we have seen signs of peril to our natural environment here in Hawaii and elsewhere. Rising and warming oceans, species depletion and the massive degradation of natural streams and coastal reef ecosystems are just a few of the signs.

In addition to Chapter 343 there are other important local laws that can and must be used to ensure good local stewardship. More than ever, resolve and integrity matter. Government administrators cannot retreat from asserting the protections contained in our Constitution and in our laws, even in the face of pressure from industry.

Hawaii can serve as a model for how to resist Trump’s efforts to walk us backward if we truly live our state motto: “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘aina i ka Pono” (the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness).

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Gary Hooser served as director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control under Gov. Neil Abercrombie, and has been a lawmaker at both the state and county levels. He is the founder of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action.

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