Cesspools in Hawaiʻi

Hawai‘i has far more cesspools than any other state—88,000 to be exact—and is the last in the nation to ban them. These cesspools put tens of million of gallons of raw sewage into our groundwater and surface water every day. Makawao and Kahalu‘u are already seeing the impacts of outdated cesspools on our environment and shortly other communities will as well. The state is taking these early warning signs seriously and enacted Act 125 to ban cesspools and encourage upgrades. This is an important step towards protecting Hawai‘i’s drinking water, public health, and environment. But so much more is needed. 

Why does this matter?

  • Cesspools are little more than holes in the ground that discharge human waste. They don’t treat wastewater, or contain contamination. They just pass it through. 
  • Hawai‘i’s cesspools put 53 million gallons of raw sewage into the groundwater daily. We rely on our groundwater for over 90% of our drinking water. 
  • This release of untreated wastewater not only threatens public health by the potential spread of disease but also brings harm to our aquatic and nearshore environments. 
  • Addressing cesspools can be costly for homeowners—replacements cost $20,000 -$100,000 each. Additional financial support must be made available to those who cannot take advantage of the tax credit made available by Act 125. 

Next steps

  • Fund Department of Health drinking water monitoring programs cut by federal lawmakers. 
  • Encourage homeowners to convert sooner with additional funding options.
  • Support innovations in wastewater management like composting toilets and gray water reuse. 

How you can help

You can see priority bills here

  • Call your legislators and ask them to support bills that: 
  • Requires cesspools located in priority upgrade areas to be upgraded within 180 days of the sale of the property
  • Support funding options, studies, and alternatives for mandated cesspool upgrades
  • Submit testimony in support of these bills in hearings 

Click here to see more posts about cesspools

Bills, Bills, Bills

The 29th legislative session is in full swing! With help from our members, partners, and Capitol Watch team captains, we’ve been busy tracking a number of bills that we've identified as priority bills. Please add these to your trackers and flag as bills that either a) have "legs" (i.e., have a decent chance to pass first lateral) and/or b) are well-written with the greatest positive environmental impact.

Please note: after first lateral (February 16th), many bills will die. It is important we make every attempt to get these priority bills through the committees they have been referred to! Please contact Committee Chairs ASAP and request your priority bills get heard!

HOW can you help?

There are many ways you can help usher these priority bills through the legislature:

WHAT bills are priority?

Sea Level Rise: HB 2468, HB 2469, HB 2106, SB 2442, SB 694, SB 2334, SB 3068, SB 3063, SB 2327, SB 2017

Cesspools: HB 2268, HB 2626, HB 2732/SB 2642HB 1722/SB 2717, SB 2567, SB 2117

Clean Energy: HB 1801, HB 1864, HB 2057, HB 2109, HB 2460, HB 2431, SB 2933, SB 2956, SB 2939, HB 2724, HB 2719, SB 2910/HB 2249, HB 2110, HB 1830

LNG/Fracking: HB 1836, HB 1837, HB 1838, HB 1839

Carbon: HB 1986, HB 1991, HB 2182, HB 795, SB 1088, SB 105

Oxybenzone Ban: HB 2264, HB 2723, HB 1391, SB 2571, SB 2409

Polystyrene/Plastic: HB 1937/SB2498, HB 2625/SB 2964, HB 371, HB 2107, SB 2285, SB 2127, HB 2718

Waste/RecyclingHB 1806HB 1800, HB 2726/SB 3099, HB 184, HB 2025, HB 2095, SB 2110, SB 2120

Native/Invasive Species: HB 904/SB 636, SB 2399, HB 2301/SB 2728

Pesticides: HB 2721, HB 2722, HB 2495/SB 2837, HB 1756/SB 2456, SB 2469, SB 3095, SB 2126

Agriculture/Land Use: SB 2575, SB 2524, SB 2572, SB 2561/HB 2101

Trails: HB 479, SB 2331

Watersheds: HB 2595HB 2543, HB 1977

Freshwater: HB 1987, SB 2930/HB2712, HB 2592

Sustainable Development Goals: SB 2667, SB 2668, SB 2673, SB 2674, SB 2675, SB 2676

DLNR Funding: SB 2446

General Environment: HB 1708, HB 2026, HB 2470

*Slash indicates companion bills.

HTA & DLNR Budget Talks...Stay with Us!

UPDATE (2/1/2018): SB 2446 passed through all three committees yesterday, with a half dozen senators grilling Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA) employees, including president and CEO George Szigeti, on what they've been doing to mālama natural resources and the environment across the state. Star Advertiser article on this issue here.

ACTION ALERT: Contact Ways and Means Committee Chair Senator Donovan Dela Cruz NOW and urge him to hear SB 2446!

It's no secret that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) suffers from chronic underfunding and understaffing issues. For years, the agency and legislature has arm wrestled over "we need more funding" and "first do what you're mandated to do" statements. Perhaps it's time to consider giving the DLNR the benefit of the doubt, toss more funds their way, and see what happens. After all, it has become clear that our natural resources are beginning to show deleterious effects, in huge part due to the nearly 10 million tourists we welcome to our islands each year.

But where will the funding come from, you ask? Well, there is currently a measure in the Senate (SB 2446) that seeks to transfer 15% of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA)'s budget to the DLNR. The HTA has done a marvelous job in drawing ever-increasing numbers of visitors to Hawaiʻi. Tourist visits consistently exceed even their own forecasts! With a annual budget approval of over $88 million last year, it is no wonder. 

Meanwhile, the DLNR, mandated to manage and protect Hawai‘i’s finite natural resources and pristine beauty -- that which arguably draws the over 9 million tourists to the islands annually -- receives a mere 1.2% of the State budget. The outcome of this imbalance is a grossly underfunded and understaffed DLNR, which inevitably results in insufficient management of the very natural resources the HTA draws visitors here to experience.Trails are overcrowded and insufficiently maintained, invasive species are swiftly spreading whilst native species are dwindling in numbers, reefs are experiencing bleaching and die-off in part from the chemical offloading from hoards of sunscreen-laden tourists entering the nearshore waters.

Perhaps it is time to start leveling the scale and transfer a significant portion of HTA’s budget to DLNR; a choice that will not only have positive outcomes for the natural beauty of Hawai‘i, but also for the local people and visitors who enjoy it.

SB 2446 has a joint hearing before three committees on Wednesday January 31st.

The Environmental Bill List is LIVE!

We have compiled a list of crossover environmental bills from 2017 added to environmental bills we've identified that were introduced this 2018 session. Click for BILL LIST or any time the tab on the menu bar and peruse at your leisure! 

Please note: there are two tabs, one for House Bills and one for Senate Bills. 

Don't forget to add bills you're interested in tracking to your tracking list on your Capitol website account by clicking the orange "Measure Tracking" button on the home page after you log in: 

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 4.53.53 PM.png


Happy bill tracking from your Capitol Watch team!

Committee Hearing on Water and Land

Senate Committee on Water and Land (WTL): Friday, 1/26/2018, 2:45pm, Conference Room 224 (Agenda here)

Bills to watch (testimony due 1/25/2018 at 2:45pm):

  • SB 2003: Relating to Aquatic Life

This bill restricts the taking of aquatic life by any method for commercial purposes. Only individuals holding a valid, non-lapsed aquarium fish permit and commercial marine license may take. Prohibits the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) from issuing any new permits and requires the phase-out of existing permits within 5 years of the enactment of this bill. Restricts the limit of non-commercial aquatic take to five live specimens per permit per day, subject to conditions.

  • SB 694: Relating to Real Property Transactions

This bill requires a purchaser or transferee to provide an oceanfront purchaser statement with every sale or transfer of oceanfront real estate and for the statement to be recorded with the bureau of conveyances.

Our thoughts: this is a good bill that seeks to make it clearer to the purchaser of oceanfront property the risks involved, especially in light of projected sea level rise across the state.

Need a refresher on submitting testimony? Click here.

Committee Hearing on Energy and Environmental Protection

House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection (EEP): Thursday, 1/25/2018, 8:30am, Conference Room 325 (Agenda here)

Bills to watch (testimony due 1/24/2018 at 8:30am):

  • HB 1864: Relating to Renewable Energy Technologies

This bill expands the income tax credit for renewable energy technologies to include ocean thermal conversion systems. This means that if ocean thermal conversion systems were installed, (e.g., for air conditioning cooling purposes on a large building), the individual or corporation could claim a tax credit up to 35% of the cost of installation on their tax return the following year up to $1.5 million.

Our thoughts: this bill is a good bill that broadens the playing field for folks to choose renewable energy alternatives, which supports our statewide goal of 100% by 2045. Learn more about “SeaWater Air Conditioning” here.

  • HB1801: Relating to Renewable Energy

This bill would amend the definition of “renewable portfolio standard” to more accurately reflect the percentage of renewable energy penetration in the State. It seeks to hold gas utility companies to the same standard as electric utility companies.

Our thoughts: this bill is a good bill that seeks to rectify the overestimation of the amount of renewable energy serving Hawaiʻi’s electric utility customers and also holds the gas utility to a higher standard that mirrors the electric utility’s standard that commits to increase their reliance on renewable energy. Not all gas is clean and renewable, which the gas utility should be held accountable to address. Refresh your understanding on the State’s path to a renewable future here.

  • HB 1830: Relating to Energy at the University of Hawaiʻi

This bill broadens the University of Hawaiʻi’s (UH)options to deposit and move money from the Green Specials Funds to initiatives that support the use of renewable energy and increases in energy efficiency and conservation. It also allows the University to transfer other funds into the Green Special Fund for the purpose of renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation.

Our thoughts: this is a good bill that increases the capacity of UH to engage in renewable energy projects and initiatives that increase energy efficiency and conservation. As UH is the second largest energy user in Hawaiʻi, besides the military, any efforts to move their energy use toward a more clean a renewable profile, moves the State in general toward our goal of 100% renewable by 2045. Learn more about the UH Green Special/Revolving Fund here.

  • HB 1800: Relating to Motor Vehicle Tires

This bill authorizes counties to establish a requirement for customers to exchange the equal number of used tires to the tire retailer as they are purchasing, or pay a fee to compensate for the missing tires. This reduces tire waste, which has ecological and human health implications such as promoting the spread of mosquito borne illness, and creates a fund for authorities to clean up improperly disposed of used tires.

Our thoughts: this bill is a good bill that promotes tire recycling. Tire waste is unsightly when it litters our roads and other spaces, and is a threat to human health/safety and the environment.

Need a refresher on submitting testimony? Click here.

State of the State: Highlights from the Governor's Address

Yesterday in his State of the State Address, Governor Ige touched on the many important issues we face here in Hawaiʻi--such as homelessness, traffic, unemployment, and many environmental issues, such as our reliance on fossil fuels, our commitment to a renewable energy future, food security, and global climate change. He was clear in his message that we must invest in the future, for our children and for future generations.

In order to invest in the future, it is crucial to look at our actions today and how they will impact the environment. The governor spoke of the many ways Hawaiʻi is working to protect our land and ocean resources, such as being the first state in the nation to sign the Paris Climate Accord. This means continuing to work towards reaching 100% renewable energy resources by 2045 and working to grow a carbon market in Hawaiʻi. Doing so would allow carbon polluters across the globe to offset their carbon emissions, for example by investing in restoring Hawaiʻi’s koa and ʻōhiʻa forests.

Governor Ige also mentions the dream of “a future economy for Hawaiʻi that isn’t reliant solely on tourism and the military”. In order for this to become a reality there needs to be an increased focus on food security via local food production, including efforts that promote sustained crop yields grown right here in the Islands and sustained, plentiful fisheries--both of which result in feeding our local communities. In a system where we currently export 80-90% of our agricultural crops, it is crucial for Hawaiʻi to move toward a more resilient and sustainable food system that does not not rely so heavily on imports for food. Therefore the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi will support measures and initiatives that encourage diversified agriculture, carbon farming and composting, and the regulation of restricted-use pesticides (i.e., pesticides that are harmful to soil health, freshwater resources, nearshore marine life, and human health).

The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi is pleased to see the Governor direct focus to environmental issues. We look forward to working with his administration, as well as state and county agencies, as we move forward with climate change adaptation, mitigation, and reduction strategies that include 100% clean and renewable energy and food security.

Civil Beat article here and video here.

+3.2 ft: Sea Level Rise in Hawaiʻi

Beaches play an important role in our island way of life. Hawaiʻi’s beaches provide unique habitats for a variety of plants and animals and protect residents living near the ocean by acting as a natural buffer against the high wind and waves of powerful storms. We also rely on our coastal resources for subsistence, recreation, economic support, and traditional and customary practices—all of which will be impacted by rising sea levels. Now is the time for Hawaiʻi’s communities to take action to not only mitigate the long-term effects of climate change but also adapt to the impacts we will continue to see in the future.

In 2017, the new Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission issued the first statewide assessment of sea level rise. You can read the report in all its entirety here. Here are some brief takeaways:

Sea levels could rise in Hawaiʻi more than 3.2 feet by mid-century. See what 3.2 feet looks like in your community here.

Why does this matter?

  • If greenhouse gas emissions stopped today, the sea level would still rise, so preparations must me made now, even as we mitigate climate change

  • At minimum, 3.2 ft of sea level rise would:

- Displace 20,0000 residents,
- Impact 35 miles of road,
- Inundate 2,000 sewage disposal systems,
- Affect 550 cultural sites, and
- Compromise 6,500 structures - like hotels, shopping malls, and small businesses







How you can help

You can see priority bills here

  • Call your legislators and ask them to support bills that:

    • require upon sale, disclosing that the property is in the sea level rise vulnerability zone

    • require the state to incorporate sea level rise predictions and implement recommendations from the Hawaiʻi Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report

    • document the value of North Shore beaches to Hawaiʻi’s culture, health, and economy

  • Submit testimony in support of these bills when scheduled for hearings

Check out more sea level rise related posts here

Opening Day at the Legislature

Legislative Session is upon us! What does this mean, exactly? Several things; some symbolic, some practical, some supportive. Whatever your reasons, this is a great day to get down to the State Capitol and show your support in democracy, an open and transparent government, various social and environmental justice movements, or just to meet some legislators vis-à-vis.

First off, larger-than-normal turnouts are expected due to the ʻOnipaʻa Kākou events taking place concurrently between ʻIolani Palace and the Capitol Rotunda. This event marks 125 years since the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the removal of Queen Liliʻuokalani from the throne.

Generally speaking, Opening Day at the Legislature starts at 10:00 am, with speeches in both House and Senate chambers. Both will be broadcast on ʻōlelo community media, channels 49 and 55 (more info here).

At 9:00 am, both Kuʻi at the Capitol and an Opening Day Social and Environmental Justice Rally will take place in the Capitol Rotunda (info below).

Several Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi staff and volunteers plan to partake in various events throughout the day. One group will be at the gathering at Kamehameha Statue at 10:15 am, the flag raising at ʻIolani Palace at 10:45 am, and the Hoʻokupu at the Queen Liliʻuokalani Statue at 11:15 am. Another group plans to be at the House floor speeches and another at the Senate floor speeches taking place at 10:00 am. We then plan to convene together and walk the halls in efforts to meet-and-greet legislators in person. Please contact kimiko.lahaela-walter@sierraclub.org for more information.

Whichever events you decide to turn out for, we look forward to seeing folks down there supporting the community, engaging in civics, and meeting public officials!


Events and Activities

ʻOnipaʻa Kākou events begin at sunrise and continue through the afternoon. More info here.

Kuʻi at the Capitol 9:00 am-3:00 pm. Where 2,000 pounds of kalo will be provided by event organizers and pre-registered participants can pound using their own Papa Kuʻi (pounding boards) and Pohaku Kuʻiʻai (pounding stones). More info here.

Rally at the Capitol 9:00 am. Where you can learn about and show support for various social and environmental justice issues. More info here.

Opening Day at the Legislature 10:00 am. Floor speeches by various legislators, including Senate President and Speaker of the House, are occurring in both chambers. Many legislators are offering open houses throughout the rest of the day, inviting the public to meet them and discuss legislative priorities for this session and other community issues.


Legislative How-Tos: A Refresher

Brush up on engagement how-tos at the links below. Let’s have all hands on deck for tracking important bills and hearings this session!

1. How to receive hearing notices by email

2. Bare basics of writing testimony

3. Tips on communicating with legislators

4. Step-by-step guide on submitting testimony online

5. How to make your voice heard at the Capitol

6. Hawaiʻi State Capitol Website

7. Quick overview of the Hawaiʻi State Legislature

All of this info and more can be found in the Legislative How-Tos tab of the Capitol Watch website.

CapitolWatch Blog IS BACK!

You asked, you shall receive - the CapitolWatch blog lives once again! Here is the rundown (with the good ol' five w's): 

[WHERE] Right here - hawaiicapitolwatch.org! Welcome to the new edition of the CapitolWatch blog. You will find everything you need for the 2018 legislative session on this site. Please also check out Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi's home page, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

[WHO] In 2018, the CapitolWatch blog will be updated by Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi volunteers and staff. We will focus primarily on environmental bills with the hope that in the coming years we will be able to expand with partners to cover additional social justice and other environment-related issues. 

The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi is always looking for new CapitolWatch volunteers. Click here to jump on our mailing list if you are interested in joining. 

[WHAT] The one-stop-shop for all of your environmental legislative needs. We will be posting Sierra Club's bill priorities, background on priority bills and issues, and most importantly, action alerts and updates. Also available will be how-tos, tips, tutorials, legislator contact information, and more to help you be successful in your civic engagement.

[WHEN] The CapitolWatch blog will make a reappearance with the 2018 Legislative Session. As you know, 2017 is almost over so we will be posting soon on bills to look out for—both good and bad. The 2018 Legislative Session begins on January 17, 2018 and runs until May.

[WHY] CapitolWatch has been a successful program for a number of years now, however, the blog has recently been the missing piece. We have heard from you folks about how helpful the blog was in the past in making it easier to engage and stay up-to-date on legislative environmental issues so we made a point this year to start early to bring it back!

Questions? Concerns? Suggestions? Email us at hawaii.chapter@sierraclub.org

Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi CapitolWatch

CapitolWatch is dedicated to demystifying the legislative process so you can have your voice heard on environmental issues that you care about.

Our goal is to create a team of volunteer “CapitolWatch leaders” who will help us create, research, follow, and provide testimony for bills pertaining to the environment. Through this program, team leaders and members will learn how to engage with local communities, organize for collective power, and gain legislative experience.

In building a truly diverse environmental justice movement, all are welcome. This is a great opportunity to learn first-hand how laws are made in Hawaiʻi.

There is also opportunity for students to get internship credit or volunteer hours. 

Interested? Join our CapitolWatch mailing list - we will be sending out meeting invitations and updates as session gets closer.