Civil Beat: Hawaii Lawmakers Have Largely Dropped The Ball On Slowing Climate Change

Efforts to address the effects of a warming planet on a vulnerable island state have mostly fallen short this session.

By Nathan Eagle    

Original article here.

The Aloha State won’t be taxing carbon emissions to combat climate change anytime soon after the Legislature balked on bills to do so this session.

Homeowners won’t have to tell potential buyers if they live in an area at increasing risk of flooding due to rising seas. Coal won’t be banned, or the sale of new gas-powered cars. And Hawaii land use laws won’t be strengthened to protect beaches and coastal communities.

Lawmakers opened the session in January with dozens of climate-related bills and a sense of urgency to address the looming effects of a warming planet.

But, with less than three weeks to go, only a handful of measures remain and most amount to more studying and planning.

Not all is lost. A few bills would at least steer the state in the right direction, according to legislators, climate scientists, environmental groups and labor organizations.

Lawmakers are still moving forward with bills to study carbon pricing options, provide money for meaningful updates to the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan and establish an emboldened energy office that has the resources and authority to carry out broad initiatives that are already on the books, such as making the state carbon neutral by 2045, greening the ground transportation sector and going 100 percent renewable for electricity.

Melissa Miyashiro, Blue Planet Foundation’s chief of staff, said the clean-energy nonprofit is disappointed in the demise of some of the bolder measures but still excited about three bills in particular that are headed into conference committee — the process at the end of each session where House and Senate negotiators try to reach agreement on the final drafts.

“There’s always more that we could be doing because we are facing the biggest challenge that humankind has ever faced and we don’t have a lot of time to shift the trajectory,” she said Wednesday.

Miyashiro was encouraged that House Bill 556 had survived. It would require the state to adopt minimum appliance efficiency standards for certain products, such as computers and monitors, shower heads and faucets, fluorescent lamps and sprinklers.

“It’s about saving consumers money while also lowering the carbon footprint,” she said, noting that a recent study found Hawaii has the biggest opportunity for savings of any state because of its soaring electricity costs.

Miyashiro was hopeful that House Bill 1585 would make it through, too. It would create a rebate program for electric vehicle charging systems. Lawmakers have yet to put any numbers in the bill, but the purpose is to help build out the charging infrastructure throughout the state so more people can switch to EV cars.

It could also help address a “chicken-and-the-egg issue” for upping the number of electric rental cars, which would curb an incredible amount of emissions given Hawaii’s 10 million visitors each year.

Hotels say there isn’t much demand, so they don’t want to invest in charging stations, Miyashiro said. But rental car companies say there aren’t many places to charge vehicles, so their customers don’t want electric cars.

Groups, including Blue Planet, are worried that a separate EV measure would be at odds with state and county clean-energy and carbon-neutrality goals. Senate Bill 409would make it more expensive to own an electric vehicle by adding a registration surcharge fee.

The idea behind the bill, introduced by Sen. Lorraine Inouye, is to have EV owners pay their fair share for road maintenance, since that comes from the gasoline tax. But Blue Planet, Tesla and others said that would send the wrong signal and is premature since fewer than 1% of registered vehicles in Hawaii are electric.

Miyashiro said it is also important to wait for the Department of Transportation to finish its road usage study, which would charge vehicle owners a fee based on how many miles they drive instead of how much gas they use.

“We’re just a little hesitant about scaling back incentives for electric vehicles when that study is still ongoing and we’re still at such an early stage for adoption,” she said.

Ground transportation accounts for 27% of Hawaii’s petroleum use. Electric power is another quarter, air transportation is 32% and marine transportation and other uses account for the rest, according to state figures for 2016.

State Energy Czar

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, wants the Legislature to quit reacting to everything that comes up each session and become more proactive.

He said lawmakers will have a more serious discussion about the EV surcharge bill and others in conference committee. But he said some of the structural changes in government that he supports — namely, a more powerful and centralized state energy office — would solve many of these debates.

A version of Senate Bill 1259, introduced by Sens. Glenn Wakai, Dela Cruz, Kidani and Maile Shimabukuro, was resurrected last week after it died in the House. Dela Cruz and Wakai stuck a beefier version into House Bill 852. That had been a budget bill for energy and environmental programs but it got absorbed into a broader spending measure.

HB 852 would establish a chief energy officer, subject to Senate confirmation, and lay out the direction for the state energy office, ranging from providing analysis on renewable energy and clean transportation goals to leading efforts on energy resiliency and engaging the privateer sector to help.

Its latest draft provides $2.3 million in general funds for each of the next two fiscal years.

Dela Cruz said the different sectors for renewable energy have lobbied for tax credits and priority consideration. Instead, he would rather see lawmakers be more aggressive in laying out how the state plans to achieve its ambitious environmental goals.

“We should be setting the stage,” he said.

The bill notes how climate change is expected to cost the state $19 billion in sea level rise alone, making the switch to renewable energy and the ultimate reduction of carbon emissions even more of a priority.

University of Hawaii climate scientist Chip Fletcher, who co-authored the state’s seminal sea level rise study, said the session has had its share of disappointments but there have been minor successes.

“From where we stand right now, I give us a C,” he said.

The Legislature provided $205,000 in the state’s overall $16 billion budget to continue funding a climate change coordinator position, which had been in question. Anu Hittle currently holds the job, which involves working with the state Climate Commission on its efforts to help the state adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

An overdue update to the Coastal Zone Management Act is dead this session.

Sam Lemmo, who heads the state Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands, had said this was a critical part of a “Climate 3.0” initiative that he envisioned to empower the executive branch to address climate change by moving beyond setting goals. He declined to comment for this story.

Senate Bill 393, introduced by Dela Cruz, cleared the Senate but went on to die in the House without a hearing. A similar measure, House Bill 549, introduced by Rep. Nicole Lowen, had a similar outcome — passing the House but then eventually dying in the Senate without a hearing.

Both would have provided substantial updates to the CZM law.

Asked why HB 549 didn’t get a hearing from Ways and Means, Dela Cruz said he thought his bill was still alive in the House. He said there’s still a slight chance it could be resurrected before the session ends.

“There was miscommunication about which version of the bill would move forward and by the time we wanted to hear it the deadlines were already passed,” Lowen said.

HB 549 would have required new developments to plan for the impacts of projected sea level rise and prohibited development in areas significantly affected by projected sea level rise. It also would have toughened coastal armoring policies.

The measure noted that 70% of Hawaii’s beaches are chronically eroding and more than 13 miles of beach have been lost to erosion fronting seawalls and revetments.

The bill had support from the Sierra Club, state and county agencies, the Democratic Party and others but was opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and Building Industry Association of Hawaii.

The chamber raised concerns about infringing on private property rights. In its testimony to lawmakers, the chamber said the proposed amendments would make it more difficult for homeowners to protect or improve their coastal properties and questioned who should compensate the landowner for their loss.

Lowen, like Dela Cruz, said it was disappointing that the bills died.

“There’s always next year,” she said.

A separate shoreline protection bill, which has support from the chamber and unions, is moving forward.

House Bill 1487, introduced by Lowen and Rep. Chris Lee, establishes a pilot project to protect urban Honolulu from sea level rise, floods, storms and other effects of a rapidly changing climate.

Its latest draft included $2 million so long as the City and County of Honolulu pays for half, which seems uncertain.

Josh Stanbro, who heads Honolulu’s climate change office, said the city will “explore the potential to allocate resources to this effort in the future should matching funds become available.”

The influential carpenters union, which has helped propel candidates to higher office, backs the proposal.

The union testified before lawmakers that the building industry is particularly sensitive to future impacts of climate change, including rising water tables, subsiding land and coastal erosion.

“It’s not over yet,” Lowen said. “We just have to wait and see what happens.”

Support two clean energy bills before Thursday, March 28th

We are amplifying this action alert sent from our clean energy partner Blue Planet Foundation. Two clean energy bills are getting a hearing this Thursday: Your support matters now more than ever to getting these bills to the finish line. See below for instructions and sample testimony for both measures. 

Please submit testimony for these bills: 

HB 556: Appliance Efficiency Standards

This measure will save Hawaii residents $537 million and 34 billion gallons of water, and prevent the emissions of 700,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over 15 years. These standards are already in place in California and other states, and it would be easy to adopt them in Hawaii. Read the bill here

SB 1000: Electric Vehicle Ready Buildings

One of the biggest barriers standing between consumers choosing electric vehicles over fossil fuel vehicles is a lack of adequate charging options in the state. This measure will ensure that at least 20% of parking stalls in newly constructed commercial and multi-family residential buildings in Hawaii are ready for electric vehicle (EV) charging. Read the bill here


When: Please submit testimony BEFORE 9:30AM, WEDNESDAY, 3/27. 


  • Send an email to the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health:

  • In subject and body of email, be sure to state you are testifying in support of House Bill 556, "Relating to Energy Efficiency."

  • Explain the reasons for your support. See sample testimony below, and check out our fact sheet for more ideas. 

  • Sign your email with your full name. Include your city, state, and zip code. 

  • See sample text for testimony below. Feel free to copy and paste into your message, and to modify as you see best. 

  • You can also submit testimony directly on the Hawaii State Capitol website, but you'll need to create an account first. 

  • Share with friends!

Sample testimony: 

SUBJECT: Support for HB 556, "Relating to Energy Efficiency," March 28, 2019, 9:30AM hearing

Aloha Chair Baker, Vice Chair Chang, and members of the Committee,

I am testifying in support of House Bill 556, "Relating to Energy Efficiency."

This is an important bill that protects Hawaii consumers from energy wasting appliances that drive up our already high utility bills. I support Hawaii adopting Appliance Efficiency Standards as it will save Hawaii residents $537 million and 34 billion gallons of water, and prevent the emissions of 700,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over 15 years.

Products and technologies meeting these standards are readily available today from multiple manufacturers. Most of them have no incremental cost, meaning they do not cost more than inefficient models, and consumers will start saving right away.

These standards are already in place in California and other states, and it would be easy to adopt them here.

In light of these facts, I support the passage of House Bill 556.

Thank you for considering my testimony.

[Sign your full name, and list your city, state and zip code] 


When: Please submit testimony BEFORE 2:00PM, WEDNESDAY, 3/27. 


  • Send an email to the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce:

  • In subject and body of email, be sure to state you are testifying in support of Senate Bill 1000, "Relating to Electric Vehicles."

  • Explain the reasons for your support. See sample testimony below.

  • Sign your email with your full name. Include your city, state, and zip code. 

  • See sample text for testimony below. Feel free to copy and paste into your message, and to modify as you see best. 

  • You can also submit testimony directly on the Hawaii State Capitol website, but you'll need to create an account first. 

  • Share with friends!

Sample testimony: 

SUBJECT: Support for SB 1000, "Relating to Electric Vehicles," March 28, 2019, 2:00 PM hearing

Aloha Chair Takumi, Vice Chair Ichiyama, and members of the Committee,

I support SB 1000 to ensure that at least 20% of parking stalls in newly constructed commercial and multi-family residential buildings in Hawaii are ready for electric vehicle (EV) charging.

Buildings would not be required to install the actual charging equipment. Instead, they merely need to incorporate, at the construction phase, the wiring and conduit necessary for later installation of an EV charger. Installing that wiring and conduit post-construction is up to 91% more expensive for residents and tenants wishing to install an EV charger.

One of the biggest barriers standing between consumers choosing electric vehicles over fossil fuel vehicles is a lack of adequate charging options in the state. This is especially true for the many Hawaii residents that live in apartments and condos, who don’t currently have the luxury of charging an EV at home or at work.

Please pass SB 1000 to expand access to EV charging options. Thank you for considering my testimony.

[Sign your full name, and list your city, state and zip code] 

Second Lateral Bill Updates

Below is an update of our bill priorities as of second lateral, when bills must move to their final committee in their non-originating chamber.

Carbon Free Hawaiʻi

  • Carbon Pricing

    • HB 1584 – [Support] Office of Planning to conduct a comprehensive study of a statewide carbon tax. WAM.

  • Clean Energy

    • HB 307 – [Oppose] Broadens the definition of "renewable energy" to include other self-replenishing non-fossil fuel resources. EET/CPH.

    • HB 550 – [Support] Amends the definition of "renewable portfolio standard" to more accurately reflect the percentage of renewable energy use in the State. CPH/WAM.

    • HB 556 – [Support] Establishes minimum appliance efficiency standards for certain products sold or installed in the State. Requires the public benefits fee administrator to educate and train appliance manufacturers, distributors, and retailers about the appliance efficiency standards. CPH.

Planning for Rising Seas

  • Strengthening Coastal Zone Management Laws

    • HB 549 – [Support] Requires new developments to plan for the impacts of projected sea level rise and prohibits development in areas significantly affected by projected sea level rise. Amends policies and objectives related to coastal zone management to reduce residential exposure to coastal hazards and protect state beaches and public shoreline access. Defines "beach" and "coastal hazards". JDC/WAM.

  • Sea Level Rise planning

    • HB 461 – [Support] Requires the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission to conduct certain activities to address the impacts of sea level rise and report to the Legislature before the 2021 Regular Session. Appropriates funds for the Commission's activities and to fund the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Coordinator. WAM.

    • HB 765 – [Support] Requires incorporation of sea level rise projections in all new plans and updates to existing state plans generated under the Hawaii State Planning Act. WAM.

    • HB 1487 – [Support] Establishes the Honolulu shoreline climate protection pilot project to develop a plan to protect urban Honolulu from the impacts of sea level rise, floodwater, storms, and other impacts of a rapidly changing climate. Repeals on 6/30/2022. Appropriates funds. WAM.

Protecting Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems

    • HB 1326 – [Oppose] Allows holdover permits for stream diversions to continue until 2026. WTL/WAM.

    • HB 808 – [Support] Establishes an offense of knowingly capturing, taking, possessing, abusing, entangling, or killing a shark in state marine waters, along with penalties and fines. Expands the existing prohibition on knowingly capturing or killing a manta ray in state marine waters to apply to all rays and to also include knowingly taking, possessing, abusing, or entangling a ray. Provides certain exemptions. Effective 7/1/2050. JDC/WAM.

    • HB 551 – [Support] Extends lapse date for funds appropriated to the University of Hawaii to conduct a comprehensive statewide study of sewage contamination in nearshore marine areas. Extends lapse date for funds appropriated to the Department of Health to conduct research or gather technical assistance relating to the cesspool conversion working group's comprehensive cesspool conversion plan. WAM.

    • SCR 35 – [Support] Urging the U.S. EPA and the Hawaii Department of Health to reject the approval of a single wall tank upgrade alternative option for the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and the conclusions presented in the Groundwater Protection and Evaluations Considerations Report dated July 27, 2018.

    • SB 696 – [Support] Extends various reporting deadlines and the sunset date of the cesspool conversion working group established pursuant to Act 132, Session Laws of Hawaii 2018. Extends the lapse dates for funds appropriated to conduct a comprehensive statewide study of sewage contamination in nearshore marine areas and for research and technical assistance necessary for completion of the comprehensive cesspool conversion plan. FIN.

Land Use and Development

    • HB 593 – [Oppose] Authorizes the development of utility scale solar projects on class A agricultural lands, subject to certain requirements. Repeals 6/30/2025. WAM.

    • HB 1403 - [Oppose] Requires approval of a permit application submitted by a housing development project that uses moneys from the rental housing revolving fund if a county does not issue a decision on the application within sixty days, subject to certain requirements. Exempts the foregoing projects from environmental impact statement requirements until an update to administrative rules regarding exemptions to environmental impact statement requirements takes effect. WAM.


  • HB 1171 – [Support]. WAM. DLNR-DOFAW operating budget bill that would provide $5M to programs including:

    • Hawaiʻi Invasive Species Council (HISC) prevention, early detection-rapid response, control, and outreach projects;

    • Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) research and response; and

    • Wildfire response.

  • HCR 55 - [Support] Requesting the Governor to convene a working group to make recommendations on the consolidation of state environmental functions and the establishment of a Department of the Environment. FIN.

  • HCR 198 - [Support] Requesting the Legislature to convene a working group to discuss the economic growth potential of investing in green industry initiatives. FIN.

Waste Reduction

  • Plastics

    • HB 762 – [Support] Prohibits providing straws unless requested. JDC.

    • SCR 31 – [Support] Designating the Hawaii State Capitol building and its grounds as a single-use plastic free zone. WAM.

    • SB 522 – [Support] Single-use Plastics Working Group. FIN.

  • Recycling

    • SB 893 – [Support] Prohibits counties with a population less than 500,000 from rejecting number 1 and 2 plastic bottles presented for recycling solely because the bottles are accompanied by or adjoined to nonrecyclable bottle caps. Requires and appropriates funds for the counties to separate and appropriately dispose of such nonrecyclable bottle caps. Requires the counties to include a feasibility assessment of recycling PP materials. FIN.

Common Good Coalition

  • Automatic Voter Registration

    • HB 1217 – [Support] Automatic Voter Registration for driver's license and identification card applications. JDC.

    • HB 1485 – [Support] Establishes a process for automatically preregistering or registering public school-enrolled students who are at least 16 years old.

    • SB 412 – [Support] Automatic Voter Registration for driver's license and identification card applications. FIN.

  • Taxation of Real Estate Investment Trusts

  • Social Services

    • SB 390 – [Support] Department of Agriculture to create a dollar-for-dollar match program for beneficiaries of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who purchase Hawaii-grown produce. FIN.

Don't Pump the Brakes on Rooftop Solar!

Don't Pump the Brakes on Rooftop Solar!

Oppose SB 1163 SD 2, which has a hearing in EEP on Tuesday, March 12th at 8:30 AM.

While the rest of the country is trying to address climate change and pushing the idea of a federal "Green New Deal," the Hawaii Legislature is bizarrely moving in the opposite direction. SB 1163 SD2 would slash Hawaii's renewable energy tax credit by more than half starting next year. This would drastically halt or slow the growth of rooftop solar and home batteries, ironically at a time when climate scientists are telling us we need to accelerate the transition to clean energy.  

The Hawaii Legislature's proposal would happen at the same time as the federal income tax credit is stepping down, meaning a double whammy on customers wanting to do the right thing. We'd leave federal money on the table instead of helping the transition to a clean energy future. 

What you can do:

  1. Please email or call (808.586.8400) Rep. Lowen, the Chair of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, and ask her to defer SB 1163 in Tuesday’s EEP committee hearing.

  2. Submit written testimony in OPPOSITION to SB 1163 via the Capitol Website by Monday, March 11th @ 3 PM.

While prudently reducing Hawaii's renewable energy tax credit over time may be reasonable, slashing the incentive by over half with less than six months of notice sends a signal that Hawaii doesn't care about climate change or market stability. Another part of SB 1163 prevents customers from "going off the grid" and installing grid-disconnected solar and storage, something some legislators have called a blatant "give to Hawaiian Electric."

Talking Points:

  • Rooftop solar has helped Hawaii residents save billions of dollars and reduced the need for dirty, fossil fuels. This helps everyone.

  • The impacts of climate change loom ever larger, with threats such as an iceberg twice the size of New York about to break off and potentially destabilize the Antarctic, and natural disasters hitting with more and more regularity. Hawaii is uniquely vulnerable to these impacts and should be accelerating its efforts to reduce emissions, not slowing down.

  • Cutting the residential and commercial cap by more than half effectively cuts the tax credit by the end of this year, despite disingenuous language elsewhere in the bill. This is poor policy and sends a terrible signal to the market -- don't invest in Hawaii, they don't care about market stability. 

  • Support Hawaii residents who are trying to do the right thing for our environment and economy, and defer this bill.

Read More

Civil Beat: Many Climate Change Bills Are Still Alive, Including A Carbon Tax

At the session’s halfway point, several new measures have support. But some current initiatives will expire if action isn’t taken.

By Nathan Eagle 

Sam Lemmo is ready for Hawaii to take its effort to combat climate change to the next level.

The head of the state Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands wants the Legislature to empower the executive branch so it can address the myriad threats facing Hawaii when it comes to global warming.

That means making temporary institutions permanent, like the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission. It means updating laws to reflect the latest projections of rising sea levels, more hurricanes, shifting rainfall patterns and hotter weather. And it means money for technical services that enable agencies to do detailed vulnerability assessments and develop programs that actively deal with these issues.

“We need a Climate 3.0 now,” Lemmo said. “Then we can begin the slow process of digging out of this mess.”

Lawmakers have moved a suite of climate-related bills forward this session, which reached its midpoint this week. Several other measures have died, such as mandating an assessment of the environmental impacts of tourism, but more than two dozen have cleared the House or Senate.

The deadline for bills to cross over from one chamber to the other is Thursday. Measures that didn’t make the cut are technically dead this session but can be taken up again next year. It’s also possible to revive them by stuffing their contents into other bills in the coming weeks through legislative maneuvering.

Lemmo considers Act 83, which the Legislature passed in 2014, to be the Hawaii version of Climate 1.0.

When then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed it, he said it provided “a road map for Hawaii to be able to deal with the questions of climate change and global warming.” It created an interagency committee to assess the effects of sea level rise in particular.

Climate 2.0 came in 2017 when the Legislature passed a bill, signed by Gov. David Ige, to ratchet that work up a notch. It expanded strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and aligned Hawaii with the goals adopted in the Paris Agreement. It also renamed the committee the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission.

But there is uncertainty about the future of the commission, co-chaired by the heads of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Office of Planning. The commission is set to terminate July 1, 2023, and funding expires for its sole coordinator position in June.

Other environmental programs that would help the state adapt to a changing climate and mitigate its many effects are similarly in search of additional funding. The DLNR has asked for more money to fight increasingly destructive wildfires, rebuild coral reefs that are bleaching from warmer ocean waters and respond to biosecurity threats in watersheds and native forests.

“I want to implore the legislators to trust us — give us the opportunity to take it to the next level with implementation,” Lemmo said.

To many, the climate commission’s work has only begun. The 20-member group has adopted a landmark sea level rise report, which includes online mapping tools for the public and state agencies to use for planning. In November, it unanimously called on the Legislature to pass a carbon tax to incentivize people to change their habits for the planet’s well-being.

The House and Senate have killed bills to make the coordinator position permanent and further fund the commission’s work. Case has asked for $205,000 for the position and planning and administration costs for the commission.

It’s something that Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and his counterpart in the House, Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, will hash out as they work on the overall state spending plan.

Dela Cruz said he supports the concept but would rather work on broad-based policies to change the culture and regulatory practices around climate change than hire one person to advocate for the issue.

“I have mixed feelings about these positions,” he said Wednesday.

Still, he and Luke have shepherded through several bills, with costs still to be determined, that approach climate change challenges from a variety of angles.

Carbon Tax Bills Dwindle

On the Senate side, the biggest is a proposed carbon tax — a sweeping environmental policy reform that would affect virtually everyone in Hawaii.

Senate Bill 1463, introduced by Sen. Karl Rhoads and six colleagues, unanimously passed the 25-member chamber. It was transmitted to the 51-member House on Tuesday.

It’s the only version of a carbon tax still alive. Two House bills, far different than Rhoads’ proposal, died without a hearing. One related measure, House Bill 1584, is still moving forward but it only calls for a study by the University of Hawaii.

SB 1463 would replace the environmental response, energy and food security tax — commonly known as the barrel tax — with a carbon emissions tax equivalent to $6.25 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels sold by a distributor to any retail dealer or end user of the fuel, other than a refiner. It would be paid by the distributor.

It has received lukewarm support from environmental groups and state agencies. Concerns remain over its regressiveness and effect on highway funds, which depend on money from the barrel tax.

The Tax Foundation of Hawaii, led by Tom Yamachika, testified last month that the social change the tax encourages may help stave off the dire consequences of global warming. But it cautioned that its constituents are worried less about the end of the world than the end of next week.

“Will their paychecks be enough to pay the rent, keep the lights on, or feed the family?” Yamachika said. “If the cost of simply driving to work from the suburbs is horrible now, just wait until the tax kicks in.”

Yamachika warned that businesses will pass on any increased costs to consumers to continue providing their products and services.

“If you think the hammer of a carbon tax will fall most heavily on huge, faceless corporations like the electric company, the airlines, or the shippers, think again,” he said. “Our already astronomical cost of living could head further up into the stratosphere.”

Yamakchika did recognize that the bill is revenue-neutral. Increased taxes on carbon-related entities would be offset elsewhere. But he’s worried the tax rates would change over time.

Hawaiian Electric Co. estimates that the carbon tax could add more than $19 million in costs each year to customers across the islands. Scott Seu, HECO spokesman, said in his testimony last month that the company supports doing a study first.

The Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, which has made a carbon tax a top priority this session, suggested amending the bill. The group proposed drastically increasing the price per ton of CO2 for all fossil fuels, increasing it steadily till the state meets its net zero emissions goal by 2045, and giving a dividend to consumers to offset the disproportionate impact on low- to moderate-income residents.

The bill now rests with the House, which will refer it to committees to consider in the coming days.

“It’s Hawaii’s attempt to get its foot in the door to initiate a carbon tax or pricing scheme,” Lemmo said.

Coastal Development

Lawmakers are trying to figure out how which roads, homes, hotels and businesses should be set back farther from the ocean and which ones should be protected from rising seas, increasing floods and other impacts.

House Bill 549, introduced by Rep. Nicole Lowen and 15 fellow House members, would require new developments to plan for the impacts of projected sea level rise and prohibit development in areas significantly affected.

The measure, which cleared the chamber unanimously, highlights the inadequacies of the current coastal zone management policies and regulations with respect to the protection of beaches. It would work to strengthen efforts to conserve beaches while also reducing shorefront communities’ exposure to hazard.

House Bill 1487, which also passed unanimously, creates a shoreline pilot project to develop a plan to protect urban Honolulu from the acute impacts of climate change. It’s about flood-proofing the urban core.

It underscores how a direct hit from a hurricane — severe storms are increasing in frequency due to climate change — could cost an estimated $40 billion in damage to Hawaii’s infrastructure and economy.

The bill, introduced by Lowen and Rep. Chris Lee, calls on the climate commission to plan for protection of low-lying areas between the Honolulu airport and Diamond Head. “Protection compartments” along that stretch would include flood-protection zones, a continuous shoreline path that could be used for emergencies, and steps to make each area self-reliant if it became isolated.

A separate measure that would have directed the climate commission to determine areas in each county to designate for either armoring or managed retreat died last month, but elements of it are still alive in other bills.

Senate Bill 644 had cleared its first hurdle, with Sens. Kai Kahele and Mike Gabbard moving it through their Agriculture and Environment and Water and Land committees. The committees found it “imperative” for the Legislature to start implementing the climate commission’s recommendations from the sea-level rise report, which include planning and funding coastal adaptations to sea-level rise now to avoid crises in the next decade.

In a joint committee report, Kahele and Gabbard said identification and determination of shoreline armoring and retreat should be prioritized.

Lawmakers are moving on another coastal matter backed by the climate commission.

A couple bills would require some form of mandatory disclosure when selling coastal property that is vulnerable to sea level rise exposure areas as designated by the Climate Commission.

Senate Bill 1126 and Senate Bill 1340 crossed over to the House, which did not move forward with its version of the measure.

“These bills are critically important for complementing our adaptation effort,” Lemmo said.

‘Pleasantly Surprised’

One of the broader policy bills that’s moving forward this session is Dela Cruz’s Senate Bill 393, which amends the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Lemmo said he particularly likes how it identifies sea level rise now as one of the coastal hazards that must be considered.

He said it also amends language regarding shoreline armoring to improve protection of sandy beaches by putting the onus on the regulatory agency and the applicants to prove that what they are proposing will not have negative consequences.

Another bill that could have broad implications is also still alive. House Bill 461 directs the climate commission to prioritize infrastructure and identify vulnerable roads, bridges and other properties based on exposure to sea level rise. It also calls for funding the climate coordinator position.

“I’m sort of pleasantly surprised at this point with respect to what I see in play still,” Lemmo said. “I’m also pleasantly surprised that they have taken our amendments and have incorporated many of them into the measures.”

Lawmakers are also looking at climate change from an organizational standpoint. House Bill 1586 would create a new Department of the Environment, incorporating the Office of Environmental Quality Control (now under the Department of Health) and state energy office (now under the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism).

Bills to create a statewide sustainability division within the Office of Planning and create a Hawaii Energy and Climate Change Office are also still alive, though the latter was amended to no longer include the words “climate change” in the title.

Measures to mandate an update to the Hawaii Sustainability 2050 Plan and prioritize nature-based solutions are also still alive.

While Hawaii is moving forward with its legal requirement to producing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045, the concept of becoming carbon-neutral by the same time looks more difficult.

Shifting the transportation sector, which accounts for about a quarter of the state’s fossil fuel use, to clean energy has run into conflicting policy proposals.

There are bills, for instance, to make it more affordable for residents to install electric vehicle charging stations at their homes. But there are also bills adding a surcharge to registration fees for electric vehicles and ending programs to incentivize their use, like free parking.

Sen. Russell Ruderman took up the issue on the Senate floor Wednesday when Senate Bill 409 came up. The measure, in its latest form, adds a $15 surcharge for EV registration.

Supporters of the bill, introduced by Sen. Lorraine Inouye, argue that people who drive electric vehicles or hybrids pay less in gas taxes so they are not paying their fair share for the upkeep of highways.

Ruderman and other critics of the bill point out that electric vehicles and hybrids have far less impact on the roads. They’re lighter than SUVs, for instance, and the heaviest trucks that cause the vast majority of damage.

He questioned instituting a policy that de-incentivizes switching to electric and hybrid vehicles, which only account for 1 percent of the registered automobiles in Hawaii.

“I realize that most of you folks today are not going to change your vote based on what I say,” Ruderman said. “But I’m asking you that next time we are faced with a decision of whether we are to take action on the greatest crisis facing our generation or not, that you turn over a new leaf and prioritize climate change as a matter of public policy.”

Ruderman and Sen. Donna Mercado Kim cast the lone “no” votes. The measure now heads to the House.

Lemmo said he recognizes the balance that lawmakers must find in tackling climate change.

“Everyone is feeling the burn of climate change, and feeling the pressure not to go so far that it damages our ability to meet our requirements day in and day out,” he said.

But he underscored the mounting pressure to act now, and the mounting scientific evidence to support that.

A study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change found there is a 99.9999 percent change that humans are the cause of global warming. That’s the “gold standard” statistical measure for certainty.

“I’m really just hopeful that we can make some progress on the adaptation and mitigation fronts,” Lemmo said.

FIN Hearing Fri, Feb. 22: Clean Energy and Climate bills

The House Committee on Finance has scheduled a public hearing for several environmental bills on Friday, February 22nd at 11 AM in Room 308. The meeting agenda has a handful of bills worthy for your time and support, but here’s a few that we really like with sample testimony to use or customize.

Login into your Capitol account HERE to submit your support for these clean energy and climate change bills:

HB 549, HD1 RELATING TO THE ENVIRONMENT - Requires new developments to plan for the impacts of projected sea level rise and prohibits development in areas significantly affected by projected sea level rise.

“I support HB 549 HD 1, which updates Chapter 205A-the Coastal Zone Management Act, to incorporate sea level rise within its objectives, policies, and permitting processes. This bill will help prevent the loss of beaches and public access caused in large part by granting of shoreline setback variances, especially as we enter a new era of sea level rise. As the sea level rises we can expect a increase in the number of applications to armor coastal properties with seawalls and revetments. Please pass this bill to guard against further shoreline hardening and protect our coastal ecosystems.”


HB 1584, HD2 RELATING TO CARBON EMISSIONS - Appropriates funds to the University of Hawaii to conduct a comprehensive study of a statewide carbon tax.

“I support HB 1584 HD 2, a bill that is dedicated to studying the feasibility and impacts of carbon pricing. The way we design and implement a carbon tax is critical to its effectiveness. A carbon tax needs to strike the right balance- it needs to be equitable for low-income households, result in significant carbon emissions reductions, and help Hawai‘i fund investments in clean energy and climate adaptation. A study bill is a critical first step to provide policy guidance on how Hawai‘i’s carbon tax should be structured.“

HB 1487, HD1 RELATING TO CLIMATE CHANGE - Establishes the Honolulu shoreline climate protection pilot project to develop a plan to protect urban Honolulu from the acute impacts of sea level rise, floodwater, storms, and other impacts of a rapidly changing climate.  Appropriates funds. 

“I support HB 1487 HD 1, which establishes and appropriates funds for the Honolulu shoreline climate protection pilot project to develop a plan to protect urban Honolulu from the acute impacts of sea level rise, floodwater, storms, and other impacts of a rapidly changing climate. The coastline of urban Honolulu will be a particularly important and challenging area to protect in the face of rising seas and more frequent flooding and inland inundation. HB 1487 directs the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission to plan a system of coastal protection for the “low-lying topography” of urban Honolulu, creating a shoreline buffer from the Honolulu International Airport to the Diamond Head State Monument.“

HB 1586, HD1 RELATING TO THE STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT - Establishes and transfers to a Department of Environment certain agencies and programs administered by the Department of Health (the Office of Environmental Quality Control and the Environmental Council) and the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (the Energy Office and programs relating to climate adaptation planning in the Office of Planning) on July 1, 2021.

“I support this bill to create a new “Department of Environment” for the state of Hawai‘i. It would be beneficial to combine the existing state agencies dealing with environmental issues into a new agency that is streamlined and action-oriented. A Department of Environment could help to facilitate discussion about the impacts of climate change, breakdown departmental silos, and initiate sustainability and clean energy projects that will encourage conservation jobs, stimulate our economy, and protect Hawai‘i’s natural resources for future generations.”

Submit testimony for HB 549, HB 1487, HB 1584, and HB 1586 by logging into your account, entering in the bill number, and clicking submit testimony.

Support HB 563: Coal Free by 2023

Do your part to make Hawaiʻi coal free by 2023! HB 563 prohibits the burning of coal in Hawaiʻi after 2022.

Call and email Representative Takumi TODAY and ask him to schedule HB 563 to be heard by FRIDAY 2/15. Call his office at 808-586-6170 and email him at

Coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world—responsible for one third of US carbon emissions. Burning coal is literally fueling climate change. Burning coal also has a devastating impact on public health, leading to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs. Several principal emissions result from coal combustion, including:

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses

  • Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)

  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals

  • Fly ash and bottom ash, which are residues created when power plants burn coal

Hawai‘i has only one coal-fired power plant remaining in service. The AES plant on O‘ahu has a power purchase agreement that is already set to expire in 2022. Passage of this bill ensures that Hawai‘i will be “coal-free by 2023”, solidifying plans to transition Hawai‘i from dirty energy and encouraging AES and Hawaiian Electric Company to redirect its focus to clean energy and battery storage projects. AES and the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative recently broke ground on Hawai‘i’s largest hybrid solar and battery storage system on Kaua‘i’s south shore, so we know that this company has great potential to also make the transition away from coal on the island of O‘ahu.

HB 563 furthers Hawai‘i’s commitment to 100% clean energy by 2045 and sets another example of the legislature’s ambitious leadership to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.

Past hearings: