Hawaii State Capitol - Photo: Emily Metcalf
Hawaii State Capitol - Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY CLIFF SLATER – What is being lost in the discussion about whether to grant the County Mayors and the Governor the ability to override environmental law, and environmental impact statements (SB 755 SD2 HD3), is that these laws were passed primarily to restrain politicians from being reckless with public resources, not to restrain the private sector.

For example, there is little that a private developer can do that does not involve the use, directly or indirectly, of public resources. Accordingly, the private developer will always need political permission to develop virtually any project. Hence, gaining that permission is a cost, direct and indirect, of doing business as a developer. And relative to the potential benefits to developers, politicians generally come cheap.

The indiscriminate and virtually unconstrained private/political partnership constructing freeways into cities in the late 1950s and early 1960s caused a huge public outcry nationally. That led to Congress passing in 1966 many environmental statutes such as the one known as Section 4(f).

This statute essentially requires federal transportation agencies to only approve transportation projects, such as freeways and rail lines, that had been rigorously investigated for potential alternatives that might avoid the use of a city’s historic and recreational resources.

Public insistence led to similar environmental protections being enacted into law by the various states, including Hawaii, whose environmental statutes cover much of the same ground as the federal statutes.

In short, environmental laws, certainly as they relate to construction projects, were passed to prevent politicians from using public resources without adequate consideration of the environmental consequences.

Thus, what a majority of our state legislators are attempting to do is essentially rescind our environmental laws, unless it is convenient for them to invoke them. To pass such legislation would be an act of unspeakable arrogance; these legislators must be stopped.