EXCLUSIVE: 7 years after emissions reduction law passed, governor has not approved rules

Published: Jun. 11, 2014 at 3:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New rules that will require polluters in Hawaii to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions are still not in effect, seven years after lawmakers passed legislation.  And environmentalists want to know why Gov. Neil Abercrombie has not signed the rules into law, seven months after his own health department delivered them to him for his signature.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, said Abercrombie needs to sign new rules cutting back on emissions from power plants and refineries that the Department of Health sent to his desk at the end of last year.

"And now those rules are sitting on the governor's desk and it feels like, in a way, he's punting under those rules and not taking action," Mikulina said.

When the legislature approved the greenhouse gas emission bill in 2007, Hawaii was the second state the pass such a proposal after California. The measure was signed into law by former Gov. Linda Lingle and the rules were supposed to take effect by January 1, 2012. But that never happened.

Gary Gill, deputy director for environmental health at the Department of Health, said the Lingle administration made "very little progress" on the rules during her final years in office.  Her term ended in 2010.

"Rule making takes a long time," said Gill, who was appointed to the health department by Abercrombie in early 2011. "It's not perfect but it's a step in the right direction."

Gill said the health department was slowed in developing the rules by several staff changes, including when a key engineer left for a job at the transportation department.

The Health Department received comments on the emissions limits from power companies, refineries, environmentalists and others until January of 2013 and then made changes, including lowering the required drop in emissions at plants from 25 to 16 percent.

"This was a Department of Health process.  There's really no excuse for the governor to be sitting on them at this time," Mikulina said.  "There's plenty of time for back and forth and iterating these rules. So it's a big question to us: what's the hold up?"

"The governor is in the final stages of thoroughly reviewing the proposed rules, which are voluminous and address complex regulatory issues," said Abercrombie Press SecretaryJustin Fujioka in a statement.

Fujioka said Abercrombie has spent the last few months reviewing how the new regulations will affect specific agencies and industries.

Gill told Hawaii News Now he expects Abercrombie to sign the new rules "soon," within a matter of weeks.

"It's not unusual to take this much time to develop rules, especially for complex regulations that involve numerous agencies and industries," Gill said.

'It's been a dynamic landscape – a river in motion – and the river keeps changing," Gill said.

"Clean energy is Hawaii's future.  So the sooner we get on that track, the better off everyone will be," Mikulina said.

Darren Pai, a spokesman for the company that owns power companies in three of Hawaii's four counties, said, "The Hawaiian Electric Companies are working hard to meet our state's clean energy goals by transitioning to more renewable and clean energy sources while promoting energy efficiency and conservation. Our goal is to protect the environment and ensure reliable electric service, while serving the best interests of our customers."

"At this time, it's not clear what effect the proposed rules would have on electricity costs. Those costs would depend on the exact steps needed to comply with the proposed rules." Pai said.

"In addition, the costs would be impacted by programs developed by the State of Hawaii to satisfy the requirements of federal greenhouse gas regulations which were just recently proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency," Pai added.