The legislative session has yet to even begin, and House leaders are already poised to fast-track a set of blanket exemptions for power producers. House Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads has already scheduled HB1170 for hearing on the second day of the Legislative session in hopes that it will leave the House before environmental groups even notice the blanket exemptions contained within.
HB1170 was both single-handedly introduced by Mililani Representative Ryan Yamane and quietly shuttled it through its first committee hearing with unanimous consent. The bill expands existing laws on mineral resources to include geothermal power producers and to allow them to be granted rights to mineral resources with a mere two-thirds vote of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Based on its description, HB1170 appears innocuous enough:
Revises statutory provisions relating to the regulation of mineral resources under chapters 171 and 182, Hawaii Revised Statutes, to provide clarity and consistency.
Despite being amazingly inaccurate about the scope of its changes, the bill description is highly effective — keeping it off the radar of even the most astute bill-trackers. The changes included go far beyond any “clarity or consistency” suggested in the description, and not only expand the scope of existing law, but grant unprecedented exemptions to said power producers.
All 51 representatives have already fallen for this deception and voted to accept the initial committee report.
The blanket exemptions included in the bill appear to eliminate all public input on an application for a mineral lease – whether it be for gold, oil or just steam. Based on the text offered, upon printing notice in a publication on the appropriate island, the applicant would only require a 2/3rds vote of BLNR board members to obtain the lease.
With the tendency of both elected and appointed officials to disregard public input, it is rather surprising that environmental groups have so far been asleep at the wheel. The plethora of environmental groups and “concerned individuals” that testified against the Superferry and the PLDC were absent at the January 2015 committee hearing. The committee report (also authored by Yamane) almost seemed to relish in their absence:
The Department of Business, Economic Development, & Tourism and the Department of Land and Natural Resources testified in support of this measure. A concerned individual provided comments.
With only two pieces of testimony previously offered, House Jucidary Chair Karl Rhoads is hoping that environmentalists will still be asleep on their honeymoon with liberal House Democrats, and will forget the abysmal track record of current geothermal power producers. Thankfully, Pacific Business News (PBN) is keeping the memory alive. Noting a recent settlement with the EPA, PBN reminded:
Puna Geothermal Venture on the Big Island, the only geothermal energy plant in Hawaii, has reached a $76,500 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over Clean Air Act chemical safety violations at its 38-megawatt plant, the EPA said Tuesday.
Unbeknownst to PBN, they also unveiled the reasoning behind the sudden urgency to pass HB1170:
Ormat Technologies is planning to develop another 25-megawatt geothermal project on the Big Island, which still needs the approval from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.
HB1170 will test of the uncomfortably cozy relationship that the Souki-Saiki-Luke leadership team enjoys with environmental groups. Environmentalists were one of the attack dogs unleashed during Superferry and PLDC hearings to catapult the trio into power. Even in the absence of deposed House Speaker Calvin Say, current House leaders are once again poised to put in place another set of blanket exemptions to exclude public input and environmental consideration.
The million-dollar question is not the who or why of HB1170. That much is clear. HB1170 was clearly intended for the benefit of a single power producer (the only geothermal power producer in the state), one with an abysmal environmental track record. The million-dollar question is how HB1170’s scope could be expanded to benefit other unsavory donors with deep pockets – like NextEra or Monsanto.