Rep. Mina Morita's Blog


Appointed vs. Elected Board of Education

Posted in Education,Elections,Legislation/Capitol,Uncategorized by Mina Morita on October 17, 2010

I am voting “yes” on the appointed school board question.  Hawaii’s families need to hold elected officials accountable for our public education system, however, under the current structure it is very difficult to hold anyone accountable.  We can’t say we hold our elected Board of Education members responsible because most of us don’t even know who the BOE members are and many voters don’t even vote in the BOE races.  At least with an appointed school board Hawaii’s families can point directly to the Governor and the Legislature.

Several weeks ago I wrote about what makes a great school.  Here is an excerpt from that post:

Since 2002 the Lingle-Aiona administration tried to peg school reform on one issue, locally elected school boards. The Chair of the House Committee on Education, Representative Roy Takumi, has studied the issue of school reform extensively.  What is clear is governance of a school system (local versus state board of education) has little to do with successful schools.

Throughout the country, successful schools have these common characteristics:  (1) Principals with effective leadership qualities, (2) Skilled and dedicated teachers, (3) Involved parents and active community support, (4) An Articulated Curriculum, (5) A Safe and Healthy Learning Environment.  Using this framework, I have supported legislation that brought funding and decision-making directly under local school control, worked to reduce class size, add more money for textbooks and modernize computers and technology infrastructure, tried to address the teacher shortage by providing fair compensation to retain and attract skilled and dedicated educators, established a Principal’s Academy to enhance leadership skills, established and adjusted the weighted student formula to adequately address a student’s special needs.

Today’s Star-Advertiser story on this issue sort of misses the point.  It’s not about the BOE, it’s about the best structure that can support transformation at the school level.  Yes, there can be bad, political choices made for BOE appointees but, hopefully, there will be checks and balances to minimize that possibility.  The Legislature tried to address this concern but Governor Lingle vetoed the bill that would have set-up the statutory framework for the selection/appointment process in anticipation to the possible passage of the appointed school board constitutional question.  House Bill 2377, which I co-sponsored, would have set-up a selection committee using the Hawaii P-20 Council to submit a list of potential candidates.  The Governor would have to select an appointee from this list of candidates who are then subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.  This process is similar to the Judicial selection process.

I cannot defend an elected BOE as a “democratic” process especially when voter apathy is so great.  No amount of voter education or money can “fix” this problem in a timely way.  The future of public education is at stake, the future of our children is at stake.  Democracy will not survive if public education is not our most important priority.  So please vote “yes” on the appointed school board question and remember, a blank vote is counted as a “no” vote.

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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

930,353,658

628,818,330 68%
FY 2007

936,412,347

632,645,044

68%

FY 2008

947,692,357

681,706,599

72%

FY 2009

895,737,097

705,156,511

79%

FY 2010

901,861,628

686,392,140

76%

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

73%

  • 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




Nuclear Energy – possibility or distraction for Hawaii? – reposted

Posted in Clean Energy,Legislation/Capitol by Mina Morita on August 25, 2010

Note:  I was contacted by Lena Tran of Civil Beat who advised me that I could not post the article in its entirety.  The link that she referred me to only has the first part of the article, to read the rest you have to be subscriber, however, since I am allowed to “print” an excerpt of the article, here is the part that describes what happened in the Legislature in 2009 on the issue plus the contact info for Michael Levine, how to subscribe or participate in the discussion on-line.  House Concurrent Resolution 196 summarizes the issues that need to be addressed for a “thoughtful” decision on the topic.

House Leader: Nuclear Power DOA in Hawaii

Rep. Hermina Morita, chair of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee that voted 9-0 to kill HB1, said last week that the idea of nuclear power in Hawaii has never gotten a full analysis and has typically turned into a distraction.

“There are too many things stacked against nuclear to have any kind of real possibility to move forward,” she said, pointing to the high costs and potential dangers of the technology. She also said nuclear would not achieve the primary goal of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative: moving away from imported fuel and reducing the risk of supply disruption.

“If you go nuclear, you’re still reliant on imported fuel, and if the rest of the world moves more toward nuclear, we’re going to be competing for fuel again,” she said.

That tone was echoed by DBEDT Director Ted Liu in one of many written testimonies [pdf] that raised concerns about HB1.

“As the demand for nuclear energy increases throughout the world, it is likely that the cost of uranium will also increase. For instance between 2004 and 2007, the spot price of uranium more than quadrupled, reaching more than $140/lb before falling sharply in the past several months to less than $80/lb,” Liu wrote. “Switching from one commodity, petroleum, subject to speculative swings to another, uranium, would not appear to effectively address Hawaii’s goal of energy independence.”

After House Bill 1 stalled in committee, Morita and Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee Chair Ken Ito introduced House Concurrent Resolution 196, requesting that the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum study the benefits and risks of nuclear power. The resolution did not move forward.

DISCUSSION Should Hawaii consider pursuing nuclear energy? Join the conversation and learn more about energy in Hawaii.


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It’s Official – I’m Running For Re-election

Posted in General,Legislation/Capitol by Mina Morita on July 8, 2010

I finally filed my nomination papers this afternoon so am now an official candidate for re-election for the State House, District 14, East & North Kauai.  The filing deadline is 4:30 p.m. on July 20.  The staff at the Kauai Office of Elections are hoping that all Kauai candidates will be filing way before the deadline as they are under strict instructions to close at 4:30 on the July 20 to avoid the fiasco that occurred in Honolulu in 2008.

I am running for my eighth two-year term.

Why am I running for re-election?  I was very fortunate that in my second term I was made the Chair of Energy & Environmental Protection (EEP) sort of by default.  At that time, it was unusual that someone only in their second term would get a chairmanship when there other members with more seniority.  My first choice was Water, Land Use & Ocean Resources but some people thought that with my “environmental” leanings I would reek havoc with that chairmanship.  Nobody was fighting over EEP.  Of course, today energy and food security are top of mind issues.  I have a full energy agenda and a broken environmental review process that needs to be fixed.

More importantly, at a time when we need real leadership in a representative democracy, I believe I can and will make the hard and balanced decisions to benefit all sectors of our community and future generations.

I have been in a funk after the Governor’s veto of House Bill 444.  And, I am appalled by her ignorance of representative democracy and the essence of the constitution, deferring to mob-rule mentality instead.  The Honolulu StarAdvertiser editorial and op-ed writer, Cynthia Oi piece hit the nail on the head.  And, there was nothing devious or insidious on how the House proceeded on the final vote of House Bill 444.  What was wrong was how the bill got tabled through a procedural motion in the first place.  Weeks later, the majority of the caucus felt that the public should have a right to know each representative’s position on the bill.  And that we did, going through the final vote and putting our votes on record.  If people think this one issue should be the sole determinant in one’s qualification for office I fear for the future of our Aloha State.  I guess that’s why I am in a funk.

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.

Tipping Point

Posted in Clean Energy,General,Legislation/Capitol,Sustainability by Mina Morita on May 14, 2010

There has been a whirlwind of energy announcements over the past two weeks beginning with Nissan announcing Hawaii as a launch site for the Nissan Leaf electric car.  The next announcement was CT&T, a Korean electric car manufacturer, siting Hawaii as an assembly site creating as much as 400 jobs.

On Wednesday, I drove a fuel cell/hydrogen vehicle as the GM-The Gas Company partnership was announced.  Visionary, Dr. Patrick Takahashi, Emeritus Director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and one of the early drafters of hydrogen research and development legislation in Congress for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga covers our shared experience in his May 13 blog.

Yesterday, I participated in the press conference where Hawaii Energy (for electricity customers serviced by HECO and its subsidiaries) and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (Kauai residents) announced their cash for clunker refrigerator rebate program.  The program will begin on May 24 and last as long as the ARRA grant monies hold out for qualifying refrigerators and proper disposal of the old refrigerator.  The second part of the press conference was an announcement from the Energy Division of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism of its electric car and recharging system rebate as well as its request for proposals for a systems management approach for the recharging of electric vehicles.

In August 2002 I gave one of my first major speeches at a   Hydrogen Partnering Meeting on the Big Island.  The following month I was quoted in Hawaii Business that I would hope for the day when people would say “hydrogen” and “Hawaii” in the same breath.   That certainly happened this week.  Although I have become a little bit more pragmatic in my approach to a hydrogen economy, I still strongly believe the marriage of renewables and hydrogen can be a pathway to peace.  But more importantly, in the short-term, Hawaii is pushing the envelope in integrating its electricity and transportation sectors in its clean energy policy and incorporating energy efficiency.  That’s a huge tipping point.

Hydrogen Partnering Meeting
Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel
Hawaii State Representative Hermina Morita
Chair, House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection
Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The renewable energy, hydrogen and fuel cell technology expertise in this room is overwhelming. I am honored to be here and included; however, I couldn’t help but notice that I am the only politician on the participant list. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I do not presume to have the academic, technological or business expertise to contribute anything significant and I have spent the past week trying to figure out how I can best participate. I have come to the conclusion that I am here for a somewhat obscure purpose — so obscure that the only way they could fit me in was to make me the dinner speaker. However, with the audience mellowed by a few cocktails and a glass of wine at dinner any politician can sound pretty good — perhaps even purposeful and palatable.  But, before everyone gets too mellowed out I hope you are ready to hear about my personal quest to have the words, “hydrogen” and “Hawaii” said in the same breath when anyone speaks of a hydrogen-based economy. When this happens, I know I will have been successful as a politician and in carrying out my obscure purpose. And, I, along with you as partners, will have shaped a preferred future for Hawaii that the rest of the world will model to gain economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social justice and equity.

My presentation is based on a talk given by Hawaii futurist Dr. James Dator before the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection, which I Chair. His message played a pivotal role in my personal development as a Legislator.  Here is a story worth retelling. More than a generation has passed since the Hawaii 2000 Project.

In the late 1960’s, an era typified by the anti-war message of love and peace, mellowed perhaps by an herbal substance, Hawaii’s future looked extremely bright. The Future Studies program at the University of Hawaii, initiated by the Hawaii State Legislature, forged critical links between futurists and decision-makers and decision-makers and Hawaii’s citizens. Funded by the Legislature, Hawaii took an impressive step in “Anticipatory Democracy” – as communities statewide planned their preferred future for the year 2000.  Through this unique partnership progressive legislation flourished – zero population growth, family planning services, the preservation and protection of our natural and cultural resources, universal health care, becoming the first state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and establishing the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute are just some of the few bold steps of the Legislature.

During that same period Hawaii’s own — the late United States Senator Spark Matsunaga — promoted not only renewable energy but laid the ground work for the discussion of hydrogen in Congress. We are so fortunate to have this vision and legacy carried on our present United States Senators Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye.  Hawaii’s Legislators took risks. They thought bold and acted on it. Their primary purpose was maintaining the quality of life for all Hawaii residents.  Then, Hawaii lost its vision and lost its nerve.

First the oil shocks of the 1970’s. In the 1980’s, Hawaii was enticed by Japanese money. This time Legislators boldly reached out – with their hands. They offered little or no resistance to new development and seemingly never met a developer they didn’t like. Despite high interest rates, construction and real estate sales boomed. These activities provided everyone with a false sense of security but created a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. By the mid-1990’s we, reluctantly, realized that along with boom periods come the bust. The Legislature struggles to just balance the budget.

The year 2000 has come and gone. The great efforts of Hawaii’s citizens in the Hawaii 2000 Project have fallen to the wayside. Instead of living up to the project’s slogan, “Somebody better care about tomorrow”, many decision-makers have been guided by the mantra, “Somebody check out the next poll”. And, I do not believe this is trend is unique to Hawaii. Unfortunately, with this breakdown in the critical links between futurists, decision-makers and Hawaii’s citizens, we have seen a dismantling in not only anticipatory democracy but also participatory democracy. Once we were known for our innovation and daring as a community. We have stopped dreaming and live for the here and now with little regard for future consequences. And, this too is not unique to Hawaii.

So, in these difficult times what should be the role of the Legislature be? What is our obscure purpose?

Dr. Dator puts it succinctly. He says, “Legislators need to become futurists — the applied futurists for our society. As such, they should enable citizens to identify significant trends and emerging issues, to understand the long-range consequences of their actions so as to anticipate alternative futures and to envision preferred futures. And then they must enact legislation.”  He continues, “Politicians should provide strong leadership and vision, not by pretending they know all the answers, but by becoming the social experimenters, by trying out different responses to various problems and opportunities on the basis of the community’s preferred vision. They should be open to change on the basis of experience, new problems and new opportunities.”

In the midst of the Great Depression — and these words should guide leaders today — Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it, if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But, above all try something.”

I believe the temper of the community I represent, which, hopefully, will be validated by the results of the General Election in November, is a community that desires a clean, renewable energy source based on the principles of sustainable practices. I believe that this temper is not unique to the community I represent but is one shared statewide, nationally and internationally.

However, I am an advocate for a hydrogen economy for a selfish reason. I am Hawaiian and I cannot bear the thought that the Hawaii I knew as a child will be different for my grandchildren. I view the transformation to a hydrogen economy as the only means to protect the natural and cultural heritage of my identity. I am convinced that this is the only answer to sustain Hawaii’s fragile environment and to stabilize and diversify its economy.

Much like Mayor Harry Kim and Senator Dan Inouye in their visions for the Gateway Project, I want the experiences and lessons that Hawaii will learn in this transformation to be a model for the rest of the world. I believe we must move forward because it is the only moral and ethical choice we have. The very existence and survival of many island nations and their people are dependent on this progressive transformation. Island nations, including Hawaii, are the canaries in the mine, gauging the adverse consequences of climate change.

A hydrogen economy that utilizes renewable energy resources captures the basic principles of sustainability in promoting environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and social justice and equity. In Hawaiian we say that this is “pono”, that it, this is right and just.

Hawaii is at a critical juncture. We are all on an outrigger canoe trying to catch a wave. We are dependent not only on an expert steersman to guide the canoe but each paddler doing his or her part to stay just ahead of the breaking wave. With all our combined efforts we can catch that wave to for an exhilarating ride. With the help of my legislative colleagues like Senator Lorraine Inouye, I hope to cultivate the political will to catch that wave on the first attempt. But if not, I and many of my colleagues will definitely try again and again, to do our part to help rebuild a bold Legislature of vision and nerve.

However, in this room, our collective passion for a hydrogen economy is one of the few ways to reestablish the critical partnership between the future, politics and humanity. In this room, our collective passion for a hydrogen economy can rekindle the hopes and desires of all citizens of the world in shaping the preferred future.

But most importantly, in this room, we are not just politicians, scientists, technicians, civil servants or business executives but we are partners in an extraordinary humanitarian effort to build a better future. In this room, we are the somebodies that care about tomorrow.

sPACEd out – Property Assessed Clean Energy

Posted in Clean Energy,Legislation/Capitol,Sustainability,Uncategorized by Mina Morita on April 29, 2010

Some would like to give the impression that political posturing and bickering was the sole reason for the demise of House Bill 2643, the Property Assessed Clean Energy program.  I have, along with Speaker of the House Calvin Say, taken the brunt of criticism in the press and from PACE proponents for killing a bill I introduced by not moving it to conference committee and passing out House Resolution 47 instead.  However, if one were to take a pragmatic and reasoned approach in analyzing House Bill 2643, simply put, it was not ready for prime time.

PACE is a property tax lien oriented financing that can be used as a tool to improve the economics of energy retrofits where the biggest barrier to their installation is coming up with the upfront cash to make such improvements.  Unfortunately, PACE is a relatively new program fraught with lots of buzz and attractive sound bites, after all who doesn’t want to promote easy financing for clean energy.

Let me make this very clear.  There is nothing in statute that prevents each county within Hawaii from instituting a PACE program on their own.  House Bill 2643 proposed floating state bonds and establishing a state revolving loan program to filter funding to the counties for loans to property owners to install clean energy improvements where the loan repayments would be made through a special assessment in the collection of property taxes.  This is very different from what is happening in mainland cities where the municipalities who are directly responsible for assessing and collecting property taxes are adopting the program by floating municipal bonds, not state bonds.

The mayors of each of our four counties are not totally sold on PACE and fully supported House Resolution 47 which called for the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism to work out the bugs with all the stakeholders.  Without buy-in from the counties PACE simply would not work.

So I guess the first question to be asked, why should the Legislature move forward on a program the counties are ambivalent about?  As each county faces reduced revenues and budget shortfalls, the creation and administrative cost of a new program is of serious concern.  And these types of issues were not resolved by the time the bill reached conference.

Mortgage lenders are concerned about the priority of liens, and rightly so.  This concern is not only being raised by Hawaii lenders alone but by lenders across the country.  A  March 25, 2010 Wall Street Journal article touches on this concern.

. . .This debt (the PACE loan) would be senior to existing mortgage debt, so if the homeowner defaults or goes into foreclosure, it would be repaid before the mortgage lender gets any money. While property-tax assessments are usually senior to existing property debt, cities have traditionally used their assessment authority for community-wide improvements like sewers and roads—not for upgrades that homeowners elect to make on their own homes. . .

. . .But the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—which guarantee half of the nation’s $11 trillion in mortgages—has raised concerns in meetings about the program with federal and state officials. Alfred Pollard, general counsel for the mortgage companies’ regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said he was worried about the problems that a first-lien, or first-in-line, loan could create. “The goal of enhancing energy efficiency, which we share, should not overcome the need for prudent underwriting,” he said.

Fannie and Freddie aren’t allowed to speak out on public policy, and the companies declined to comment for this article. PACE advocates have lobbied for a measure barring Fannie and Freddie from taking any adverse action over the next two years on communities participating in PACE.

Critics of the program say that Fannie and Freddie, or mortgage lenders themselves, could raise rates in such communities to cover the risk that a PACE loan will displace payments to the mortgage holder. Cities could also face legal challenges, they say. The state of Maine is considering making energy loans junior to existing debt in legislation that would establish its PACE program.

“The fundamental problem is that there isn’t a free lunch but there often appears to be,” said William K. Black, a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

One of the challenges of PACE is insuring that the bond rate, the interest rate for the assessment and the administrative fees associated with the program are affordable and attractive enough to make the program a success.  Currently, mortgage and home equity interest rates are very low.  In many cases on the mainland people who initially signed up for PACE dropped out because it was far cheaper for them to either restructure their mortgage or draw on their home equity.  In an analysis of the Berkley PACE program it was found that property owners who were creditworthy and did not have a problem securing financing but just had to be motivated to make these improvements.  Therefore, if PACE cannot compete with traditional financing, there may be a propensity for PACE programs to attract less creditworthy property owners.  As this is a relatively new program there is no track record or risk evaluation.

Because PACE is an opt-in type of program and needs pull-through to make a substantial impact, the key is for the State and counties, as critical partners, to educate property owners and to assist in making the energy assessments and financial evaluations to help implement the retrofits.  The objective would be for a transparent, easy-to-access, standardized, with correctly “sized” incentives, not subsidies, with installation by qualified vendors for a self-sustaining program.  DBEDT intended to put the details in administrative rules, however, by the end of second crossover and as the bills were being scheduled for House-Senate conferences there were more questions than answers.

Overzealous proponents of PACE may feel that this is a serious setback in our advancement for renewable energy and energy efficiency.  However, it is not the lack of a PACE program that will put a brake on the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative but the lack of funding overall to carry out the long term strategy for energy and food security in Hawaii.  It was the Governor’s veto of the barrel tax last year and again this week that gives Hawaii’s energy security strategy an uncertain future.  All of the Energy Division’s special funds and stimulus money will be sucked dry by the end of the next fiscal year and their general fund funding will be jeopardy like any other program if we fail to fund this Division with a dedicated tax.  The reality could be that there wouldn’t be anybody to run a PACE program in the next Administration or the county level given the current furlough and economic conditions.  However, there now is a little light of hope with the veto override of the barrel tax.

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.

Sit-in Update

Posted in Education,General,Issues,Legislation/Capitol by Mina Morita on April 9, 2010

The Honolulu Advertiser reports that the sit-in may go through the weekend. I haven’t been upstairs today to see what’s going on but here is the full text of the Governor’s statement which she posted last night.  It is my understanding that the Governor has not been physically present in the negotiations between HSTA and the BOE.  I asked a friend, who is very knowledgeable in the dynamics of negotiations and knowing that her position is well-represented at the table anyway, if her calling a meeting with the parties and being physically present would make a big difference.  He said of course it would.  He said the Governor calls a meeting and you go, mainly out of respect for the office she holds.  But the important point here is that she has been reluctant to call-in the parties to meet. 

This kind of recalcitrant positioning only leaves the those who care about their children’s education feeling ignored and frustrated.  Here is a statement from Michael Doyle of Save our Schools, Defend Hawaii’s Education: 

Good afternoon! 

My name is Michael Doyle and I am writing to you to ask any legislators who are interested in helping to save education and the future of Hawaii to attend a press conference today, Friday April 9th at 4:00pm in the Governor’s office. 

Save our schools has been sitting in the Governor’s office since Wednesday at 2:30pm This morning Governor Lingle spoke with the press to give a statemnet on the issue, but has refused to speak to us on the issue. 

The press confrence is in response to her statements and lack of leadership on this issue. 

I hope that you will be able to make it and give your input. 

Thank you for your support. 

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the press conference but I think it would just a kind gesture for the Governor to acknowledge that there are a group of people several feet away, on the other side of walls and doors who are representative of many other families in Hawaii who expect real leadership in resolving this pressing issue.  Their position at the bargining table is not represented and she has a duty to make sure that it is.

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