Poisoned mangrove on Hawaii island (photo by Dr. Syd Singer)

Poisoned mangrove on Hawaii island (photo by Dr. Syd Singer)

BY SYD SINGER – When 35 acres of mangroves were poisoned as an eradication experiment along the shoreline at Isaac Hale Beach Park (Pohoiki), Wai Opae Marine Life Conservation District, Onekahakaha Beach Park, and Paki Bay on the Big Island, leaving the dead trees to blight the viewplane and rot away into the water, there was no environmental review or public comment.

In fact, the County of Hawaii, a partner in the project, exempted this action from requiring an Environmental Assessment, calling it routine park maintenance. The public, which will now have to look at dead trees along the shoreline for the next 30 years, was outraged, a lawsuit was started, but it was too late to stop the project and require an EA.

To some, the Environmental Assessment, or EA, is just time consuming and expensive“red tape”. To others, it’s an essential process protecting the environment and the public.

Right now, government agencies, including the Department of Land and Natural Resources, are proposing lists of exemptions to the EA process, classes of actions that the agencies consider environmentally “insignificant” and therefore appropriate to exempt from the laws that would otherwise trigger the requirement of an environmental study to assess the impact of a proposed activity, including ways to mitigate adverse effects.

These exemption lists, however, are being proposed without the benefit of any environmental study of these supposedly “insignificant” activities, even though, from a common sense point of view, individually, combined and cumulatively, many of them will in fact have a significant adverse impact on our environment.

Through exemptions, a government agency that is supposed to be protecting the environment on behalf of the public instead enables individuals and entities who propose activities that may well have a significant adverse impact on the environment to proceed without any public scrutiny or government assessment. Of course, exemptions can easily be abused to serve the interests of those who wish to avoid the light of review.

One proposed DLNR exemption, for example, would allow anyone to introduce into the Hawaiian aquatic environment any species of fish, aquatic plant, or invertebrate without an Environmental Assessment, which is currently required. Another exemption would allow the control or eradication of any species considered a weed, pest, “invasive”, alien, or “undesirable”, on any numbers of acres of land or in any size aquatic area, using poisons, chainsaws, bulldozers, biocontrol agents, and other methods, all without an environmental review or public comment.

It’s all about loopholes to the environmental protection laws, jumbo loopholes which individually and in combination will have an enormous and very significant adverse impact on the environment.

The Environmental Council (EC) is currently reviewing proposed exemption lists from various agencies, including the DLNR. The Council must concur with the proposed exemptions, or they do not take effect.

How will the Council decide whether the proposed exemptions are valid? Shouldn’t an EA be required to review the potential impacts of exempting a whole list of actions, such as introducing new species of fish or algae, or poisoning thousands of acres of alien trees?

The fact is, it’s easier to get a project exempted from an EA than approved by an EA.

The Council is just going on what the agencies tell them, and on the few, if any, public comments received from those few individuals in Hawaii who know about the Environmental Council, understand the EA process, and have heard about the current proposed exemptions lists.

There are no Environmental Assessments for these agency exemption lists. The decision by the EC to concur with these proposed exemptions will be made with less review and analysis of potential impacts than other environmental decisions. The EC and OEQC should require the DLNR and other agencies proposing exemption lists to prepare an Environmental Assessment to provide a thorough review of their proposed exemption lists.

If you care about protecting Hawaii’s environment and way of life and want to preserve the public’s voice on what the government permits and performs in our state and to its environment and people, then you should exercise your rights, before they are taken away.

For more information, see the OEQC website at http://hawaii.gov/health/environmental/oeqc/index.html

You may contact any council member at oeqc@doh.hawaii.gov or write to the Office of Environmental Quality Control, 235 South Beretania Street, Suite 702, Honolulu, HI 96813.

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