State environmental response programs running out of money

State environmental response programs running out of money
Published: Dec. 19, 2014 at 3:46 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 19, 2014 at 9:51 AM HST
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State Rep. Chris Lee
State Rep. Chris Lee

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dozens of state workers who protect our environment could lose their jobs because of something that's good for the environment.

The state Department of Health says the funding to pay for workers who ensure Hawaii's drinking water is safe, investigate illegal dumping and respond to oil spills and other environmental disasters could run out in less than three months.

"If we can't protect that and we don't have the minimal staff in place to make sure that if there's an emergency or incident that we take care of it quickly, then we are in serious trouble here in Hawaii," said state Rep. Chris Lee, Chairman of the House Energy & Environmental Protection Committee.

About 40 of these positions are funded by a special tax on each barrel of petroleum imported into Hawaii. The Department of Health collects about 5 cents on each barrel of oil, or about $1.3 million.

The problem is that Hawaii is importing less oil due to conservation and the growth of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power.

The state is now looking at alternative ways to finance these position, which include an emergency loan or getting some other forms of funding from the state general fund to pay for the environmental program. Increasing the barrel tax isn't on the table.

"I don't think raising taxes are necessary but I do think we have to find money, to be creative about it to make sure these positions continue to be funded to make sure our drinking water and our environment are protected," Lee said.

These solutions will require legislative action but if the Legislature doesn't act fast, the money will soon run out.

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