Rep. Mina Morita's Blog

Ike Kuokoa – Liberating Knowledge

Posted in Education,Environmental Protection,Events,General,Oceans/Water,Sustainability by Mina Morita on November 6, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of giving Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier a ride to a friend’s house for a dinner party.  Although on sabbatical this year, he is feverishly organizing to launch a volunteer drive to typescript Hawaiian -language newspapers to make the entire collection word-searchable.  No language skill is necessary and forgive me for not using okina and kahako in my blog.

I don’t have a scanner so I’m going to practice my typing and accuracy, the desired skills needed for this project, by retyping parts of the brochure describing the project:

Awaiaulu: Hawaiian Literature Project

Ike Kuokoa – Liberating Knowledge

Over 125,000 pages of Hawaiian-language newspapers were printed from 1834 to 1948, equaling a million or more typescript pages of text.  Perhaps the largest native-language cache in the western world, the newspapers were an intentional national repository of knowledge, opinion and historical progess as Hawaii moved through kingdom, constitutional monarchy, republic and territory, yet only 2% of that collection has been integrated into our English-speaking world today.

75,000 of the newspaper pages have been converted to digital images.  15,000 of which have been made into searchable typescript, but 60,000 pages remain unsearchable.  For a decade we have used OCR and paid operators to make quality searchable text, educating every person connected with the process.  The 15,000 pages showed the world the importance of this resource, but funding has continually dwindled.  We face closure of the project or export of the work to Asia.  Instead, we are enlisting an army of volunteers to type those pages word-for-word and make them all searchable.  We plan to liberate knowledge from the archival dust because knowledge liberates everyone.

Volunteers Needed – Be a part of this historical Hawaiian legacy effort

No Language Skill Necessary!

Mounting a locally-based volunteer drive will be a massive effort, with thousands of volunteers and a central coordinating hub to engage volunteers and guide production for reliability and accuracy.  The cost is higher than exporting the work and the effort is daunting but this allows for community engagement, personal investment in Hawaiian knowledge and Hawaii-centered kuleana in the product, supported by hands around the world.

Ike Kuokoa launches on November 28, 2011 (La Kuokoa since 1843) and will finish 60,000 pages on/before July 31, 2012 (La Hoihoi Ea).  Up and web-searchable by La Kuokoa 2012.

For pre-registration and more information go to:

My understanding of the volunteer effort is that a volunteer will “check-out” a newspaper page.  The volunteer will then typescript each article and return the page to the archive when pau.  The articles from the page will be reviewed for accuracy and, if necessary, returned to the volunteer to make corrections.  When completed the typescripted newspaper page will be credited to the volunteer as an acknowledgement of the volunteer’s participation and the volunteer may then “check-out” another page to be typescripted.

Puakea tells me that the Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Kamehameha Schools Alumni Classes, hula halau from around the world are among the groups challenging each other to amass volunteers for this effort.  He estimates that at least 3,000 volunteers are needed.

Most importantly, this cache of over 100 newspaper publications helps to reveal various viewpoints of Hawaiian life during a 100 year period.  Such insight has been invaluable.  For example, of particular interest to the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant) are articles touching on marine ecosystem management in Hawai‘i, traditional and introduced fishing practices, climatic conditions, and storms and other significant weather events.  Read more about this particular project here.

I excitedly signed up, hope you will too.

No Fishes, No Fishermen

Posted in Environmental Protection,Issues,Kauai,Oceans/Water,Sustainability by Mina Morita on October 15, 2010

Reacting to the convoluted discussion surrounding the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary management plan review, a fisherman asked me if I was for or against fishermen.  My simple answer to that question is I am for the fish – no fishes, no fishermen.

I understand that fishing is a significant factor in keeping our island lifestyle and culture but this important resource is dependent on maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem.  Unfortunately, indiscriminate fishing, the absence of comprehensive marine management and sensible regulations and enforcement have put our marine resources in jeopardy not only in Hawaii but throughout the world.  Kupuna Louis “Buzzy” Agard describes the situation we now face:

In our oceans today, too many people are fighting over a diminished resource. I have been fishing in Hawai‘i for more than 60 years. I remember when there were dense schools of fish in Hawai‘i. But I can tell you from experience, times have changed. Our food fish are now a commodity, and when a limited natural resource becomes a commodity, you have the tragedy of the commons – everybody keeps taking, but nobody takes care. If we learn to take care, and to take only what we need in a responsible manner, then maybe we can be proud of the future we pass on to our children.

Our best efforts have to be brought forth to ensure a thriving fishing community.  It was not long ago that our nearshore waters were managed through a konohiki with strict rules and serious consequences.  Our Hawaiian ancestors truly understood that having a thriving fishery was a matter of survival and responsibility.  Rebuilding our fisheries can only happen through a thoughtful discussion and acknowledging our kuleana as an island community dependent on our ocean, not through rumors, fear and speculation.  Hopefully, the Hawaii Humpback Whale Sanctuary management plan review can be seized as an opportunity to redirect federal and state resources not to focus solely on target species but to identify what it will take to restore a thriving and diverse marine ecosystem to enhance the quality of our island lifestyle.

Navigator Nainoa Thompson says, “It’s time for us to recognize the value of our ocean, and understand that we are in a time of decline . . . We must rebuild a culture of an ocean community. This will require a partnership among scientists, government, and those who use and love the ocean like I do. It’s about values and responsibility, and is truly a matter of survival.”

Examining the Perils of Mining to Make A Case for Recycling

Posted in Environmental Protection,Legislation/Capitol,Sustainability by Mina Morita on October 13, 2010

Years ago I visited two Hewlett-Packard electronic recycling facilities, one in Nashville, Tennesse while attending the National Conference of State Legislatures and another in Roseville, California while on a vacation.  The concept of “above ground mining” – removing precious metals from discarded products to be recycled for manufacturing new products – was proving to be a cost-effective concept and alternative to mining for virgin materials at these facilities.  This was my impetus to move forward in the legislature an electronic recycling bill after passing the bottle bill.

Recently, the risks and environmental problems of mining have been highlighted by the Chilean miners rescue and the Hungarian bauxite sludge disaster. The “wasting” of non-recycled aluminum cans is discussed in this Massachusetts Lowell Sun Editorial, tying mining with recycling.  For many years Massachusetts bottle bill advocates have been trying to expand their deposit/redemption program to make it similar to Hawaii’s:

That wave of red sludge is the environmental cost of man’s quest for bauxite. Bauxite is usually strip-mined (surface-mining) because it is almost always found near the surface. Bauxite ore is heated in a pressure vessel along with a sodium-hydroxide solution at a temperature of 150 to 200 Celsius. At these temperatures, the aluminum is dissolved and the toxic red sludge becomes a byproduct. For each equivalent of alumina produced, an average plant produces 1-2 times as much red mud. The red mud cannot be disposed of easily. In most countries where red mud is produced, it is pumped into red-mud ponds. These “ponds” are simply wastelands full of red mud. Due to the process used, the mud is highly basic with a pH from 10 to 13. Lake water is normally at a pH of 7. Red mud presents a problem as it takes up land area and can neither be built on nor farmed, even when dry.

About 95 percent of the world’s bauxite production is processed first into alumina, then into aluminum by electrolysis. Yes, that’s aluminum… The same aluminum can that some of you might have considered throwing away as opposed to recycling.

Too much of the “recycling movement” has been focused on issues of landfill space and waste-to-energy facilities. That is only a secondary issue. Recycling is about supplying manufacturers with the feed stocks that they need to make new products. By doing so, we can reduce the energy-intensive and too-often environmentally destructive extraction of natural resources — such as mining for bauxite ore.

Aluminum is one of the most easily recycled commodities. As we all know, making new aluminum cans out of recycled cans takes 95 percent less energy than using virgin bauxite. An aluminum can has 68 percent total recycled content, the highest of any beverage package material.

By recycling or returning our cans for redemption, hopefully we can work toward reducing these sorts of tragic accidents in the future. That is why folks are out there pushing for increased recycling and expanded bottle bills. Forty-one billion cans are wasted annually! In a recent editorial, Roger Guzowski (the recycling manager at Five Colleges Inc.) asked the question “It’s only one can though, right?”

According to statistics from Hawaii’s beverage deposit and redemption program, in fiscal year 2010 413,119,202 beverages in aluminum cans were sold in Hawaii.  329,896,576 cans were recycled.  With a recycle rate of close to 80%, almost 83,000,000 aluminum cans were “wasted”, probably ending up in landfills.  Besides the “wasting” of this important metal, there are significant energy savings when using scrap aluminum.  A can made from recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy than a can made from virgin aluminum.

Prior to passing the beverage deposit and redemption program law, Hawaii’s recycling rate was less than 25%.  Although there is still much work to be done to address Hawaii’s solid waste issues, here’s the impact of the Hawaii’s bottle law which includes aluminum, glass, plastic and bi-metal containers:

Containers Sold

Containers Redeemed

% Recycled

FY 2006


628,818,330 68%
FY 2007




FY 2008




FY 2009




FY 2010




TOTAL 4,612,057,087 3,334,718,624


  • Over 219,960 tons of beverage containers diverted from Hawaii’s landfills and channeled to recycling markets
  • Helped to stabilize and revitalize Hawaii’s recyclers
  • Created 300 jobs statewide
  • Lays the foundation for new businesses to be developed utilizing glass and plastic as resources

In Memoriam – Dr. Stephen Schneider

Posted in Clean Energy,Education,Environmental Protection,Sustainability by Mina Morita on July 20, 2010

Typically, climate change is not a top of mind issue for me because if we keep to the implementation of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative objectives we can anticipate greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 38.7% below 1990 target levels by 2020 (GHGTaskForceworkplans).  But today I found two climate change concerns disturbing and sad.

First, I heard this story on Poison Ivy Growing Faster, More Virulent because of rising carbon dioxide levels and forest disruptions.

Second, climatologist Dr. Stephen Schneider died yesterday.  The brilliance of Dr. Schneider was his ability to explain the science and political complexities of climate change in plain English.  I first met Dr. Schneider when we were both participating in a 2007 conference convened by Blue Planet Foundation at Ko Olina.  By chance, the night before the conference started, I sat next to him at dinner not knowing anything about his background or accomplishments.  Had I known I probably would have been too intimidated to carry a conversation with a Nobel Prize winner.  He was funny, delightful and unassuming.  His presentation on climate change risk management and its solution reflecting our value judgement was practical and thought provoking and has helped me to better frame energy/environmental issues.  I could not find his video on the Blue Planet website but I did find a similar presentation without the powerpoint on YouTube.

After the Ko Olina conference, Dr. Schneider made several other trips back to Hawaii to lecture and had hoped to vacation on Kauai.  His passing is a huge loss for humanity.  Here is an excerpt from Peter H. Gleich, Co-Founder & President of the Pacific Institute, post:

But his contributions extend far, far beyond his superb science: Schneider was perhaps the most important communicator on climate science issues to the public and to policymakers. Steve was committed to challenging those who deny the realities of climate change because he understood that their abuse and misuse of climate science threatens the health of humans and the planet itself . . . He taught me and many others he mentored to understand and honor the science, but he also taught us the importance of speaking up in defense of the integrity of science and the public interest.

House Bill 1808 Now Act 160, SLH 2010

Back in April I posted an update on House Bill 1808 when it passed the Legislature.  This morning Governor Lingle signed House Bill 1808 into law as Act 160.  This is the bill that will prohibit an adjacent property owner from planting and cultivating salt tolerant plants to block lateral shoreline access or pushing the vegetation closer to the sea to manipulate the shoreline certification process.

For more than a decade, concerned community members have been painfully aware of the abuses happening along our shorelines.  In previous sessions I introduced similar bills to clarify the definition of shoreline and to prohibit planting in the shoreline area without success.

The new law requires the Department of Land and Natural Resources to maintain beach transit corridors by prohibiting land owners from planting vegetation that interferes with the corridors.  It also establishes access to the corridors as a policy within the Coastal Zone Management Program.  Notice will be given to property owners adjacent to the corridors if vegetation from their property blocks access to the shoreline.  The department has the authority to take enforcement action if the issue is not resolved after 21 days.

The passage of this bill will help to enforce Hawaii’s long standing policy to protect as much of the beach as possible as a public trust resource, and to maintain the dynamic nature of our beaches to prevent shoreline erosion.  I cannot thank enough dedicated Kauai community members like Harold Bronstein, Caren Diamond, Beau Blair and Evelyn de Buhr who challenged so many shoreline certifications all the way up the Hawaii Supreme Court to keep this issue at the forefront and people like Lucinda Pyles, Carol Wilcox and the Kahala Neighborhood Board who patiently met and worked with various governmental agencies, as well as beach experts, to help address this issue through legislation.  Senator Clayton Hee helped to carry the ball on the Senate side and my House colleagues, Representatives Ken Ito and Sharon Har and Speaker Calvin Say, allowed me to chair the House-Senate conference committee as the deadline approached.  Representatives Barbara Marumoto worked with her constituents in the Kahala area and Cynthia Thielen worked with her constituents in the Kailua area and helped to stress the importance of this bill to Governor Lingle.  There were so many environmental groups and individuals who came to the Legislature to testify on this issue and lend their support.  It was a team effort.  Mahalo.

Protecting Our Shoreline

Posted in Environmental Protection,Legislation/Capitol,Oceans/Water by Mina Morita on April 27, 2010

With the exception of one Senator (former surfer Fred Hemmings), the Legislature passed unanimously House Bill 1808 to protect lateral access along our shoreline.  The purpose of this measure is to make it explicit that the public has a right to transit along the shoreline and that the Department of Land and Natural Resources shall maintain access within the beach transit corridor.  This measure will require that private property owners whose parcels abut the shoreline keep the shoreline passable and free from the landowner’s human-induced, enhanced, or unmaintained vegetation that interferes or encroaches in the beach transit corridor.

Hawaii’s land laws are unique in that they are based on ancient tradition, custom, practice and usage.  Until the Great Mahele of 1848, under King Kamehameha III, title to all lands subject to tenant rights, including coastal lands, was the sole property of Hawaii’s alii.  The Mahele changed this by creating a western system of fee simple property ownership.  However, throughout Hawaii’s history, our Hawaiian ancestors’ and our present day relationship with the sea has provided a venue for sustenance, transportation, religious practice, cultural, and recreational passions. 

In the matter of Application of Ashford, 50 Haw. 314 (1968), the Hawaii Supreme Court explained that the majority of titles were conveyed in the 1850’s even though the government had no knowledge of tidal datums or benchmark elevations.  Therefore, there was no intention to use elevation in establishing coastal deed boundaries.  In most cases, the government relied, instead, on the high water mark of the waves.  In Ashford, the State of Hawaii successfully argued that traditional rights of public access existing under the monarch land tenure system, prior to the Mahele, extend to present day and include the right to traverse along the shoreline to swim, fish, and seek other varieties of seafood.  The Hawaii Supreme Court decision in Ashford that “the location of a boundary described as ‘ma ke kai’ is along the upper reaches of the wash of the waves, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation or by the line of debris left by the wash of the waves” serves as the foundation of the present legal definition of Hawaii’s shoreline and a long standing public policy of extending to public use and ownership as much of Hawaii’s shoreline as is reasonably possible.

Unfortunately, in the past two decades or so the state surveyor, who processes over two hundred shoreline certifications each year, experience at least half a dozen applications per year which are contested.  These applications usually involve the manipulated planting of salt-tolerant plants to confuse the identification of a natural vegetated shoreline that in the past have evidenced the upper reaches of the wash of the waves.  As a result of this abuse, a manipulated, vegetated shoreline may represent a loss of ten to one hundred per cent of beach width for public use and deter lateral access seaward of the shoreline.

This bill acknowledges the foresight of our Hawaiian ancestors and policymakers long before us and reaffirms and strengthens Hawaii’s longstanding public policy of extending to public use and ownership as much of Hawaii’s shoreline as is reasonably possible by ensuring the public’s lateral access along the shoreline.  And, hopefully, with this more explicit language in statute, people like Caren Diamond and Harold Bronstein who have been guardians of the shoreline fighting in court these kinds of abusive planting and cultivating practices can get the much deserved rest from this battle.

Barrel Tax Passes Legislature

Posted in Clean Energy,Environmental Protection,Legislation/Capitol,Sustainability by Mina Morita on April 14, 2010

Here is my floor speech on the barrel tax which passed the Senate by a vote of 16 ayes, 2 ayes with reservations and 7 noes, and the House with 37 ayes, 11 noes and 3 members excused.  The bill now moves to the Governor for her approval or veto within the next ten days.  Should she veto the bill, the Legislature must override by the end of session (April 29).  Although I am disappointed that not all of the $1.00 tax increase is dedicated to the energy and agriculture special funds, many of existing energy and agriculture programs are still appropriated out of the general fund like the agricultural inspectors and the renewable energy tax credits.  While I had hoped that this tax increase would be used to accelerate energy and food security implementation, unfortunately, the State’s core government programs need to be funded.  The language of House Bill 2421 does call for the allocation of the tax to be reviewed each year.

Mr. Speaker, in the parlance of the Representative from Hawaii Kai, non-support of this measure is economic development and job killer number one.  This bill should not be viewed as a tax but a retention fee.  A retention fee to reduce the over $8 billion dollars each year we ship offshore to pay for our imported fuel and food. 

            One year ago when we voted on a similar measure which was House Bill 1271, where all the funding was dedicated to energy and food security, we were recovering from a oil price spike which peaked at $145.29 per barrel on July 4, 2008.  When we took that vote oil prices hovered at about $51.00 per barrel.  Today the price of crude oil is at $86.00 per barrel, the past 52-week pricing ranged from $44.45 to $86.42 per barrel and the one year forecast is projected at $99.00 per barrel. 

            As the global economy improves and demand increases the oil pricing trajectory is upwards.  Mr. Speaker, as politicians, we can all agree that there is never a good time to raise taxes.  It is very easy, especially in an election year, to chant “no new taxes”.  During a time of recession we question ourselves about the wisdom of raising taxes.  However, Mr. Speaker, in dealing with energy issues the window of opportunity for Hawaii is limited and getting smaller each day and it’s going to cost money.  If we want to put our energy and food security strategies into action and implementation we have to pay for it somehow.  Doing nothing is not an option, not if we call ourselves leaders.

            As an isolated archipelago, we are vulnerable to fuel and food supply disruptions and global forces beyond our control.  A transition to a clean energy economy and a strategy to reduce both our fuel and food imports, which is funded through this tax increase, puts Hawaii’s destiny more under our control.  It will take a long term planning, a smart strategy, public-private partnerships, the infusion of new technology, smart investments and political will to achieve this strategy.  However, we can only achieve this strategy with political will and putting our money where our mouth is.

            Mr. Speaker, the economic development opportunities are in the energy, agriculture, health and education sectors.  However, the energy sector is the bedrock of our economy.  Stable, predictable energy pricing is a major factor that affects each sector of our economy and offers an opportunity for economic growth.  Moreover, Mr. Speaker, the energy sector moves hand in hand with the information technology and communications as technological integration require software and communications support.

            Hawaii should be the center of research and development, technology validation and integration for a clean energy economy transformation.  But we can only be taken seriously and achieve these goals if we, as the leaders, residents and businesses of this State, make the needed long-term commitment and investment by putting our money where our mouth is.

            Colleagues, don’t be pennywise and pound foolish on this measure.  Mr. Speaker, the reality is that if this bill does not pass, when the ARRA funds run out DBEDT’s Energy Division will not have the funds for staff to drive the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative next year.  The State will not have any funds available to cost share any Department of Energy awards which will limit our ability to compete for federal funding and the agricultural sector will continue to limp along with further declining resources.

            Mr. Speaker, if this bill does not pass what I fear the most is that clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency will only be available to those who can afford to make the transition.  As the cost of fossil fuels rise it will be those who can least afford rising energy costs that will ultimately bear the burden of maintaining an antiquated electricity and transportation infrastructure.  One of the key objectives of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative is grounded in social and economic justice; that is we provide for a strategy that moves our entire community forward to secure the benefits of a clean energy economy and food security transformation for each person and business throughout Hawaii.  Mr. Speaker the tax is broad based, a burden shared by all and a tax that can be easily offset by efficiency and conservation measures.

            Mr. Speaker, I will put this bluntly because I know of no other way to describe this situation.  When the Lingle Administration leaves office, the ARRA monies allocated for energy and the petroleum violation trust fund, which has supported the Energy Division for several decades, will be depleted and sucked dried.  In dealing with critical issues like energy and food security, these are long-term strategies that cannot be planned or implemented by election cycles or by a single person’s action for a large scale transformation to occur.  We all have an on-going but important role to play in this endeavor.

            Mr. Speaker and colleagues, today we have the opportunity to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and say I voted in favor of bill that will change the course of Hawaii’s destiny by working to reduce Hawaii’s dependency on imported fuel and food.  I voted to put my money where my mouth is and supported a tax increase to ensure energy and food security for Hawaii despite my fear of how voters will react in the fall elections because it is the right thing to do for the future of Hawaii.  And, that I am a Leader in this State in helping to achieve energy and food security for a healthy, safe and prosperous future for our families and businesses.

When 9/10 of a Loaf is Better Than None

Posted in Clean Energy,Environmental Protection,Issues,Legislation/Capitol by Mina Morita on March 19, 2010

When the renewable portfolio standard and net metering laws were first passed in 2001, what started out as separate bills were merged into one bill by another chair leaving me frustrated because the net meeting language was an okay first step, but the renewable portfolio standard was meaningless. I had the option of killing the bill, and both concepts, completely and walking away with nothing or taking half a loaf. Begrudgingly, I took half a loaf. After amending these laws over the past eight years, net metered households and businesses have increased significantly statewide and Hawaii has one of the most aggressive renewable portfolio standards in the nation long with an energy efficiency portfolio standard.

Last week at the Senate public hearings for House Bill 2421 (the barrel tax), well-intentioned people opposed the bill and recommended that the bill be killed because it does not tax coal or bio-fuels, specifically palm oil. While it may be true that the coal burning power plants have higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions than the petroleum burning power plants, as the below graph depicts, the more significant problem is the oil as it is used to meet 86% of Hawaii energy needs versus coal at 7.9%. The use of bio-fuels is insignificant at the present time.

The failure to include a tax on bio-fuels and coal, the two biggest culprits in global warming have left people like Henry Curtis and Kat Brady of Life of the Land as opposing House Bill 2421. Kat has been quoted in the Honolulu Weekly saying “If you’re going to do something about climate change, why would you not include the two biggest contributors to greenhouse gases?”

Here’s the answer. In Hawaii we are doing something to address Hawaii’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, which is oil, funding a long-term strategy through the barrel tax. House Bill 2421 cannot solve the global issue of greenhouse gas emissions, but we can start in our backyard by implementing policies and actions we have full control over. It will take resources to put these policies to action. The barrel taxes addresses funding issues. So isn’t 9/10 of a loaf better than none?

Hawaii Environmental Policy Act

Posted in Environmental Protection,General,Issues by Mina Morita on January 15, 2010

In 1974, Hawaii was among the first states to adopt an environment review law modeled on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.  For over thirty years there has not been a comprehensive review of this important law.  In 2008, the Legislature passed a law (Act 1, Session Laws of Hawaii 2008) for the Legislative Reference Bureau to contract with the University of Hawaii to conduct a study of the State’s environmental review process.  Tomorrow, the House and Senate environment and energy committees (I chair the House committee) will hold a public informational briefing on the study group’s report to the Legislature.  Here is a copy of the study (Report to the Legislature on Hawaii’s Environmental Review System).  I found it easier to rely on Appendix 4, with its footnotes, to follow the study group’s recommendations.