By Harry Kim
I have just been informed that HB106, calling for the repeal of Act 97, will not be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate. The bill will die if it is not scheduled for hearing by Monday, March 18. If that happens, then Act 97 will govern the development of the geothermal industry in this state.
It is so very difficult to understand or accept that despite all of the support and testimony for HB106 for the repeal of Act 97 by people of Maui, Hawaii Island, Kauai and Oahu, which includes the County governments of Maui and Hawaii Island, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Sierra Club, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, and many others, HB106 may not be given even an opportunity to be heard by the Senate.
It has not been an easy task to convince people that this was not about a position for or against the development of the geothermal industry. This was about doing it right, with the concerns of the people and the environment being addressed.
What does Act 97 do?
- Allows geothermal exploration and development in all state land use categories: conservation, urban, rural, and agricultural (including ceded lands).
- Eliminates entirely the County government’s approval and review process over geothermal development. With this goes the entire permit process and people’s opportunity for meaningful input.
- Allows geothermal power plants to be built anywhere in urban, agricultural and rural districts without a County land use permit or public hearing because it is a right by law of Act 97.
- Allows geothermal exploratory and development drilling in all state land use categories of conservation, urban, rural, and agricultural land with only a BLNR permit.
- Reinforces the elimination of the people’s right to a contested case hearing.
- States that geothermal exploration and development are permissible in all conservation, agricultural, urban and rural zones; i.e. anywhere in the state.
It is noted that the sponsors of Act 97 originally attempted to exempt exploratory geothermal wells from Ch. 343, the state EIS/EA laws. Due to opposition, they sought an exemption from EIS/EA requirements from the Office of Environmental Quality Control in May 2012, but fortunately, this effort failed. Imagine what it would be today if this had passed. Imagine the only notification that the public would have of geothermal drilling would be waking up in the morning and seeing the drilling rig! It is of concern that the supporters of Act 97 may try again.
I consider Act 97 a huge threat to Hawaii’s people and its environment. I believe that Act 97 shows a blatant disregard for the community, the environment, local units of government, and the County and State laws of zoning and land use.
It is difficult to understand or accept that sweeping land use changes were made without any care or mention of people, of land, or of lifestyle. I ask for understanding that the sadness expressed here is not just about the development of the geothermal industry. This is about the relationship between the people and their government. This is about a hope for a government that is an extension of the people, and not for special interests or financial gain. It is asked that you become aware that if Act 97 is not repealed, it will open the way to an open door policy for the development of the geothermal industry including “enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)” or “fracking,” which is now being explored by the State of Hawaii. As stated, this is not about being for or against geothermal, this is about doing it right, with the greatest care of impact on environment and people.
At this time, efforts are being made to see how we can ensure that a hearing will be scheduled on HB106 in spite of efforts to kill the bill. It is probable, due to the lateness of this writing, that the deadline of March 18 will have passed. If you are reading this before the deadline of March 18, I ask that you contact the following Senators and ask that HB106 be scheduled for hearing: Senator Malama Solomon, Chair of the Committee on Water and Land (808-586-7335); Senator Mike Gabbard, Chair of the Committee on Energy and Environment (808-586-6830), and Senator Will Espero, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs (808-586-6360).
HB106, that calls for the repeal of Act 97, needs your help. This Act is a blatant disrespect of people, local units of government, of lifestyle, and impact on environment. It is hoped that our government will be of fairness and do what is right by law and a sense of what is right.
(Harry Kim is former mayor and Civil Defense director of Hawaii County.)