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Legislature took steps backward on climate change

A recent article in TGI (May 10) talked about the legislation the state passed this session regarding the environment and energy.

What should be clarified is these legislative actions are grossly inadequate to address the climate emergency. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared it is “now or never” if the world is to stave off climate disaster.

Scientists are warning that humanity has less than three years to slash green house gas emissions nearly in half in order to prevent the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis.

Many parts of the world, including islands in the South Pacific, are already experiencing the catastrophic effects. Hawai‘i legislators declared a climate emergency last session but, more importantly, what are they doing to address that emergency?

What we need is legislation with timelines, measurable required actions and mechanisms to insure enforcement. Rather than bills producing definitive actions, we are getting “aspirational” legislation that is not measurable or meaningful in many cases.

Bills which were introduced with mandates and decisive action were then watered down, rendering them ineffective in addressing the climate crisis.

For example, HB1800 that was mentioned in the 5/10 article was introduced with measurable goals and mandates and tasked the state Department of Health with the authority to establish rules for binding, enforceable carbon reductions. Instead, we ended up with was another study.

HB1801 was also introduced with measurable objectives and timelines for improving state building energy efficiency, but was amended and passed as a platitude for the state to lead by example, to do something, but without any specific required actions.

What we don’t need are bills like SB2510, CD1, which establishes a state energy policy requiring at least 33% of renewable energy to be generated by “firm” renewable energy.

Under the bill’s definition of “firm” it would allow for the commercial burning of trees for energy — which is a disaster for the climate. Burning trees is worse than burning coal, as trees sequester carbon when they are alive and release more carbon than coal when burnt. Renewable to some extent, but consider that trees usually take two decades or more of growth before they actually sequester carbon. And is this best use of our land, growing trees to burn?

We do have a finite supply of invasive albizia trees, but better use of these would be for mulching and specific wood products.

Burning trees is being supported by multi-million-dollar corporate interests like Hu Honua on the Big Island that environmental groups have vehemently opposed for years due to its negative impacts on the climate, air quality and its extraordinary demand for water.

Customers will pay the price, as burning trees is more expensive than utility-scale wind and solar. SB2510 sets arbitrary limits on the allowed percentages of any one type of renewable energy, constraints that are too restrictive and may be harmful to both Hawai‘i rate payers and for Hawai‘i’s energy transition.

The testimonies of University of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i State Office of Energy, state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Hawaiian Electric Company all warned about the adverse and destructive effect of imposing fixed percentages on the renewable-energy transition.

Since we can’t predict what energy sources will be available at the lowest cost and lowest environmental impact for each island, setting such requirements is unwise. Some 350 Hawai‘i groups along with other environmental organizations and residents statewide are asking Gov. David Ige to veto SB2510, CD1.

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Laurel Brier is co-founder of the Kaua‘i Climate Action Coalition.
Source: The Garden Island

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