Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has named House Agriculture Chairwoman Jessica Wooley as director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control.
Wooley, who currently represents Kaneohe, was elected in 2008. She said in a press release that she sees the post as an opportunity to have a greater impact. Her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
But depending on who replaces her, the announcement could be bad news for residents who have been advocating for more regulation of genetically modified food and farming in Hawaii.
Wooley has been an advocate for labeling genetically modified food, unlike her counterpart Clarence Nishihara in the Senate.
"If she takes that job, she leaves us unguarded from the chemical companies and their lobbyists," Nomi Carmona, president of the group Babes Against Biotech, told Civil Beat last week.
— Anita Hofschneider
A key committee in the Hawaii Senate has given its stamp of approval to two bills aimed at mitigating erosion on Oahu’s North Shore.
Senate Bill 3035 sets aside money to realign Kamehameha Highway that runs by Laniakea Beach.
Senate Bill 3036 allocates money for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program to develop a beach management plan from Sunset Beach to Waimea Bay.
Sen. Clayton Hee introduced both bills last month in response to concerns about traffic on the North Shore and recent erosion hurting some homes in the area.
The Committee on Ways and Means approved the bills on Tuesday, along with other measures related to the environment. One of them, Senate Bill 2742, would establish the Pacific-Asia Institute for Resilience and Sustainability to develop solutions for sustainable economic growth and address natural and man-made hazards in the region.
“These bills passed today touch on many facets of the environment both with immediate actions and long-term planning, and will require more meetings and consensus for success,” said Ways and Means Chairman David Ige in a statement.
Photo: Hawaii residents clean up in the wake of destructive erosion on Oahu’s North Shore in December 2013. (Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat)
— Anita Hofschneider
The Honolulu Board of Water Supply awarded nearly $2.5 million in contracts to its former chief information officer in the months after his departure from the city utility, raising questions about post-employment ethical violations.
But a city Ethics Commission investigation found Thursday that the water board did nothing wrong.
An unnamed member of the public had raised concerns about the contracts, prompting the investigation.
Brian McKee worked as CIO for the water board until May 2011. Several months later, he formed a company called UTC-10 Consulting, which successfully won bids for two BWS contracts in June 2012.
McKee also had past associations with a company called EMA, which was awarded $4.2 million in contracts to improve the water board’s meter reading and billing system, which have been plagued by errors.
While, the city’s post-employment laws appear to ban city personnel from seeking city contracts for a year after their departure, that’s not the case, explained Honolulu Ethics Executive Director Chuck Totto.
“There is a big exception,” he told Civil Beat. “It almost swallows up the rule for post-government employment for the city.”
City workers are exempt from this one-year “cooling-off period” as long as they don’t join a party that is working directly against the city’s interests, explained Totto. For instance, a former city traffic engineer can’t be paid as an expert in a lawsuit involving the city’s traffic lights.
Totto said that the law was aimed at balancing the city’s interests with those of former government workers seeking employment in a relatively small job market.
However, there are city procurement rules aimed at making sure ex-government employees aren’t getting special treatment from former co-workers when seeking contracts. The ethics commission investigation concluded that the water supply board did not violate these rules when it awarded contracts to McKee.
The investigation “did not find a conflict of interest based on business activity, financial interest or close personal relationship,” according to the city’s advisory opinion.
You can read the full opinion here.
Photo: (Flickr eVo photo)
— Sophie Cocke
UPDATED 02/21/14 10:59 a.m.
Hawaii lawmakers are planning to discuss a bill next week that some see as an attempt to undermine recent county regulations on genetically modified farming.
UPDATED Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said Friday that he introduced the measure on behalf of Howard Green, a farmer in central Oahu who wants to expand his retail facilities.
"This has nothing to do with the GMO regulations," he said. "This is about land use to make sure that he has a viable business."
Green confirmed Friday that he wrote the measure to help him grow his business despite county rules governing retail operations on agricultural land.
"It looks like another attempt to preempt the counties from regulatory authority over agriculture," said Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser. "I’m very disappointed the Legislature keeps trying to move these measures forward."
Apart from Dela Cruz, the bill’s sponsors include Sens. Malama Solomon, Michelle Kidani and Clarence Nishihara. None were immediately available Thursday for comment.
The measure is scheduled to be heard by three committees on Feb. 27, including the committees on agriculture and land, chaired by Nishihara and Solomon respectively.
Nishihara previously sponsored a bill to amend Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act to override county regulations related to genetically modified agriculture, but the measure stalled in the Senate. The senator told Civil Beat that he wouldn’t try to get his amendment considered again.
Photo: Supporters of Bill 2491, which requires more disclosure of GMO and pesticide use from biotech companies, celebrate on the steps of the Kauai County Building in Nov. 2013. (Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat)
— Anita Hofschneider
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hopes to strengthen protections for farmworkers who spray or are near toxic pesticides.
The agency has proposed new standards that would require no-entry zones in and around fields sprayed with pesticides. The rules would also bar anyone under the age of 16 from handling the most toxic chemicals and increase pesticide safety training for farmworkers.
The Washington Post has this report.
The EPA says that between 1,200 and 1,400 cases of pesticide exposure are reported each year at farms, nurseries and other agricultural operations. But the EPA says that such cases are underreported.
Locally, concerns about pesticide use have also prompted action by state and county officials.
Hawaii lawmakers passed a resolution last year that requires the state health department to study the persistence of pesticides in the environment. A study by the state health department is ongoing.
And on Kauai, county council members recently passed a law that sets up buffer zones between fields sprayed with pesticides and public areas, and requires the largest farms, primarily biotech, to disclose details about their pesticide use.
— Sophie Cocke
Robin Baird, a renowned research biologist, says an “abusive work environment” has forced him to quit his position on a committee that advises the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council on protected species.
In a letter to Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds, Baird says fellow committee member Milani Chaloupka's behavior was “unprofessional and highly inappropriate.”
"In normal work environments it is clear to me that his tone and adversarial questioning would be abusive behavior and would not be tolerated, and I am certainly not willing to tolerate it," Baird said. "Despite my interest and willingness to participate in the Council’s activities and to provide information and my expertise from working with false killer whales and other odontocetes in Hawaiian waters for the last 14 years, I am unwilling to do so in that type of work environment."
Environmental groups have been fighting to protect false killer whales — a type of dolphin that looks like an orca — from the hooks of longline fishermen going for ahi. The feds have tightened restrictions after multiple lawsuits.
— Nathan Eagle
Photo: False killer whale hooked by a longline. (Earthjustice)
Twelve wind turbines in the town of Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu are up and running again at full capacity more than a year after a fire brought them to a halt.
The project known as the Kahuku Wind project is managed by First Wind, a Boston-based renewable energy company. The turbines now are running at 30 megawatts or about what it takes to power 7,700 Oahu homes.
First Wind’s twelve turbines were shut down after a fire in August 2012 and return to limited service last September. In the wake of the fire, the company replaced its battery system with a new Dynamic Volt-Amp Reactive (DVAR) system that continuously regulates voltage.
Read Civil Beat’s past coverage of Kahuku wind farms:
Photo: Morning at Kahuku wind farms. (PF Bentley/Civil Beat)
— Anita Hofschneider
Check out the U.S. Interior Department’s new map of wind farms throughout the country, an effort of the Obama administration to move the nation toward more clean energy. It turns out there are quite a lot of them already.
You can view the interactive map here. It takes a little maneuvering to get over to Hawaii, but then we’re used to that.
(Screenshot: U.S. Geological Survey website)
A drinking water well that serves about 65,000 people at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam tested positive for low levels of lead and other chemicals in the past, according to a press release from Hawaii’s Department of Health.
The low-level contamination, detailed in records that date back to 2005, did not exceed safe drinking water standards and is not considered a threat to human health.
However, the health department did not notify the public about the past contamination, as required by state law, prompting the health department press release.
The Navy reported the results to the state health department’s underground storage tank unit. The reports were then passed on to the safe drinking water branch, where officials did not realize that the contamination was in a drinking water well and therefore did not notify the public, according to Joanna Seto, the engineering program manager for the health department’s safe drinking water branch.
“We received copies of the reports, but it was not highlighted that that was a drinking water source that they were reporting on,” she told Civil Beat.
The findings, which include lead and chemicals associated with petroleum, are taken from records dating from 2005 to the present.
The drinking water well has been the subject of increased monitoring in recent weeks after the Navy confirmed that there had been a leak of about 27,000 gallons at the nearby Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.
Recent tests have showed that the well water has not been contaminated by the leak and that the water is safe to drink.
From a health department press release:
A summary of findings since 2005 reported by the U.S. Navy to DOH is as follows:
Detection levels are measured in parts per billion (ppb). Action Levels and Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) are standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water quality. An MCL is the legal threshold limit on the amount of a substance that is allowed in public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act. DOH Environmental Action Levels (EALs) are risk-based levels published by DOH for compounds that do not have promulgated MCL values. EALs are calculated using EPA models and are considered to be conservative estimates for the protection of human health.
“Earlier records provided to the DOH Underground Storage Tank program by the Navy indicate similar historic findings that are well within safe drinking water standards,” Whelen said. “While these past findings are well below state and federal action levels, the department is concerned about the Navy’s lapse in properly reporting their earlier results to the state Safe Drinking Water program.”
Careful monitoring of the Red Hill Shaft source and the other wells within the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility will continue for naphthalene and the other petroleum compounds. Toluene, TPH-d, 1-methylnaphthalene and 2-methylnaphthalene have not been detected in the most recent water samples collected at the Red Hill Shaft in January 2014. If chemical concentrations increase, DOH will require increased groundwater sampling and plans for remedial actions. Further action will be based on the type and concentration of chemicals found.
— Sophie Cocke
Chris DeBone, a solar exec at Honolulu-based Hawaii Energy Connection, has been named the new president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, the state’s main trade group for solar.
DeBone replaces Andrew Yani, a co-founder of Bonterra Solar.
Other members elected to the board this month, at least some of whom were already serving, include the following, according to a HSEA press release:
Christian Adams, Vice President — a partner and sales director for Bonterra Solar.
Rolf Christ, Treasurer — president and CEO of R&R Solar Supply.
Bob Sumpf, Secretary — a general manager at American Electric Co.
Gary Ralston, Director — founder and owner of Hawaiian Island Solar.
Russ Winkelman, Director — finance director for Sunetric
Rick Reed, Policy advisor — president of Solaray
Cully Judd, a founding member of HSEA, is board member emeritus.
Lesle Cole-Brooks remains executive director for HSEA.
Photo: Solar panels (Courtesy ProVision Solar)
— Sophie Cocke
Hawaiian Electric Co. is taking its Honolulu Power Plant offline as a result of increasing amounts of renewable energy coming online.
Technically speaking, the plant will be “deactivated,” meaning it could be brought back into service in emergency situations.
HECO plans to eventually deactivate a total of 226-megawatts of generation by the end of 2016, including the following plants, as described in a company press release:
- Two generating units at the Waiau Power Plant will be deactivated by 2016.
- Hawaiʻi Island’s Shipman plant has already been deactivated
- On Maui, two of four units at Kahului Power Plant will be deactivated in 2014, and all four units will be retired by 2019.
More than 18 percent of the combined electricity on Oahu, the Big Island and in Maui County now comes from renewable energy, according to HECO.
Photo: Honolulu Power Plant (Courtesy: Hawaiian Electric Co.)
— Sophie Cocke
The Hawaii Senate Committee on Agriculture has approved a bill to create a task force to study whether the state should regulate the use of genetic engineering in farming.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Clarence Nishihara introduced the measure, Senate Bill 2454, and three Senate committees met on Thursday afternoon to consider the bill.
Supporters of the proposal included the Dept. of Agriculture, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association and the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce,.
Brian Miyamoto from the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation said the task force would “create an environment where emotion and politics can be removed from the debate.”
But others criticized the composition of the task force as biased and suggested that the proposal was an attempt to bypass recently-approved country regulations on the Big Island and Kauai.
"It’s simply an industry effort to circumvent local community regulations," Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser told Civil Beat. "The state regulation should be a floor, not a ceiling."
Other opponents of the bill included the organizations Babes Against Biotech and IMUAlliance and several individuals.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the measure next Thursday.
Read Civil Beat’s latest coverage of the debate regarding genetically engineered food and farming:
— Anita Hofschneider
(Civil Beat file photo from March 2013)
This probably isn’t welcome news to cat lovers.
But a new study published in the journal, Conservation Biology, says the majority of Hawaii residents think there are too many feral cats in Hawaii. The preferred strategy for removing them? Death by lethal injection.
Eighty-seven percent of the 1,510 respondents said that the number of feral cats should be decreased, while 78 percent supported removing the cats from the environment permanently.
Killing the cats with a lethal injection was the preferred technique for cat removal, while trapping the cats, neutering them and then releasing them back into the environment was the least preferred method.
The American Bird Conservancy has taken particular interest in the study, stressing the damage cats have on the Hawaii bird populations and the spread of feline diseases.
From an American Bird Conservancy press release:
The issue of feral cat management is especially pressing in Hawai’i. While Hawai’i is a place that conjures up images of a tropical paradise, the state claims the unfortunate title of “bird extinction capital of the world.” Non-native cats have certainly played a role in these extinctions, as they are known predators of many of Hawaii’s most imperiled bird species, including Hawaiian Petrel, Newell’s Shearwater, and Palila, among others.
"There is no place else on earth that has witnessed the levels of bird extinctions that have occurred in Hawai’i," said George Wallace, Vice President for Oceans and Islands for ABC. "Since the arrival of Europeans to the Hawaiian Islands, 71 endemic bird species have become extinct out of a total of 113 that existed just prior to human colonization. Of the remaining 42, 32 are federally listed, and 10 of those have not even been seen for at least 40 years."
Here’s a link to the full press release.
Photo: Feral cats in Iao Valley, Maui, colloquially referred to as “Meow Valley” (Flickr: Sara Golemon)
— Sophie Cocke
). Reports of both beaches with and without dead or dying marine life are needed – reports of no mortality are just as valuable!
Up to 800 lanternfish and squid near Nawiliwili on Kauai were reported dead or dying on Monday, according to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
DLNR’s aquatic division and the U.S. Geological Survey are collecting samples and trying to identify possible causes.
The marine life is known to inhabit deep water, between 100 and 200 meters or deeper, according to DLNR. At night they are known to migrate to shallower waters.
DLNR is asking the public for help:
The Eyes of the Reef (EOR) Network serves as extra eyes in local coastal areas. The public’s help is needed to determine how widespread the mortality event is. Here’s what the public can do:
1. Take a moment to look for dead or dying marine life in large numbers on nearby beaches.
3. Please do NOT collect samples or specimens at this time. If specimens are present on KAUAI, call DAR at 645-0532 or 482-4297.
What to Include in EOR Reports
In online reports, the public should make sure to include:
· name/contact information
· what type of animal
· how many animals
· over what period of time (how long was your walk, swim, etc.)
· whether photos are available
** PHOTOS: Photos cannot be attached to the online form. Please submit photos to: RRCPCoordinator@eyesofthereef.org with the information listed above. Photos are very valuable to the report, please take photos!
Photo: Lantern fish on Kauai beach (DLNR)
— Sophie Cocke
Xtreme Power, a Texas-based energy company, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, raising questions about warranties on the company’s battery storage systems installed on Hawaii wind and solar farms.
The company was in the midst of installing its eighth battery storage system in Hawaii, as of a November 2013 press release from the company.
The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative has Xtreme Power batteries installed at two of its solar farms and is in the midst of ordering a third, according to Jim Kelly, a spokesman for the utility.
"There are warranties, but I think bankruptcy throws everything into question," he said.
Executives at Xtreme Power could not immediately be reached for comment. But the company is hoping to attract a buyer and reorganize.
There have been three fires at the Kahuku wind farm on Oahu. Xtreme Power blamed the first two fires on Dynapower for allegedly selling it faulty parts for its battery storage system.
In court filings related to the fire, Xtreme Power said that it had incurred “millions of dollars in costs related to repairing and replacing damaged equipment.”
The case has since been settled.
The third fire, in August 2012, took the turbines offline for a year and a half. First Wind, the developer of the wind farm, has said that the turbines are expected to be operating at full capacity soon. But the company has suffered lost revenues while the project has been offline.
Xtreme Power’s bankruptcy filings indicate that the company has more than $10 million in debts owed to more than 50 parties. Creditors include Arnel Investments, which is owed $3.7 million, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy, which gave the company a grant under its Section 1603 renewable energy program. The energy department is owed $372,631.
Correction: A previous version of this post reported that Xtreme Power sued Dynapower for damages related to the August 2012 Kahuku fire. The lawsuit related to the previous fires.
Photo: Kahuku wind farm (PF Bentley/ Civil Beat)
— Sophie Cocke