The Inconvenient Truth

While legislators work hard with media allies to color the legislative session in a favorable glow, they hope that the public with see past “The Inconvenient Truth”.  Sweeping exemptions for coal companies in Hawaii from a carbon tax are only the tip of the iceberg.  Based on the pattern of behavior, the message from legislators like Mike Gabbard and Chris Lee is clear: “Climate change is negotiable”.

Since the end of the 2015 legislative session, elected officials have been quick to pat themselves on the back with self-congratulatory posts and flattering news features.  By saturating the media, it is hoped that both public and media scrutiny will overlook the abysmal track record of House and Senate environmental committees.  This reality could not be further from the truth – it is instead aimed at drowning out dissent and critical discourse.

There are many examples to highlight the environmental failures of the 2015 Legislature.  For the sake of brevity, however, let’s focus on three:

1) Carbon tax exemptions (SB359)

While simultaneously establishing a carbon (“barrel”) tax on all fossil fuels, the Legislature carved out broad exemptions for a single coal-fired power plant [1] and airlines.  The purpose of a carbon tax is to discourage the use of fossil fuels in everyday activities and to seek out better alternatives to halt additions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.  By carving out a blanket exemption for the dirtiest power producer in the state, it is clear that self-proclaimed environmental leaders do not understand climate change.  A “barrel” [2] of coal is just as bad for climate change as a barrel of jet fuel, and is just as bad as a barrel of gasoline.

2) Naphtha tax exemption (SB1150 & HB1243)

Like coal, environmental leaders at the Legislature are picking favorites in the climate change debate and opting to repeal a tax on naphtha fuels used by a small number of power producers.  While publicly embarrassing Hawaiian Electric Company at numerous committee and informational hearings for their overdependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation, the same committees fail to hold other power producers to the same level of accountability.

At a time when concerns about climate change are at an all-time high, it is puzzling as to why an “environmentally-minded” legislature would repeal a tax on a fossil fuel.  This action is clearly not based in any science.

3) Rubber-stamping liquefied natural gas (HB1243) [3]

The 2015 Legislature used HB1243 to rubber-stamp liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the next fuel to replace fossil fuels for power generation.  By validating the use of LNG as a transitional fuel, Chris Lee and Mike Gabbard opened the door for Hawaii Gas and HECO to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure for the importation, processing and utilization of LNG.  This is several hundred million dollars that could go toward the integration of better, cleaner energy technologies like solar energy generation, and solar power storage.

Individuals that are better informed by science would have recognized articles by Pacific Business News, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and not one, not two, but three different articles by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser [4] that noted that battery storage for solar power systems are not just in our future, but are just around the corner.  This energy storage technology is the bridge that will allow clean, zero-carbon solar energy to be used at night when there is no sun to power our washing machines, stove tops or televisions.  Solar panels combined with residential and business scale energy storage will make LNG obsolete.  These batteries are not just in-development, they are already going into mass-production.  It is alarming that our environmental committees would saddle Hawaii’s energy future with 10-30 years of LNG when a zero-emission power technology is just around the corner.

This is not the clean energy future I imagined, this is delaying the clean energy future I imagined.

This does not bode well

Burning any fossil fuel (LNG, naphtha or coal) emits nearly equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  There is no scientifically-based (other than being scientifically illiterate) reason to say that coal is different from jet fuel, fuel oil or naphtha.  To quote Neil Degrasse Tyson:

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

By picking and choosing, environmental leaders have become the very thing they despise: “science deniers”.  The science is clear [5] – and as people of faith we have a moral and spiritual imperative to be good stewards of this planet.  Even moreso, environmental issues are family issues just as much as sex education and college savings because it is about the future that we are leaving for our next generation.  It is important that as people of faith that obey our call to stewardship, even when elected officials do not.

[1] Only two coal-fired power plants exist in the state.  While there is small one on Maui (used to privately power pineapple and sugar operations), the law would not apply to it so long as they do not sell or distribute power.  In fact, this law could discourage use of their power for the rest of the island and lead to higher electricity prices dictated by MECO.  The exemption contained in this law would apply only to the coal-fired power plant operated by AES in Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu.

[2] “Barrel” can also refer to the energy equivalent of one million British thermal units.  While one can imagine a barrel of oil, a “barrel of coal” seems rather odd.

[3] While the subject of an entirely different discussion, recent scientific research notes that natural gas like LNG is anywhere from two- to four-times worse for the environment than the fuel oil that HECO currently uses.

[4] So in addition to being scientifically illiterate, they are just illiterate.

[5] This blog will have strong words with anyone who claims otherwise.