Category Archives: environment

Opponents charge TMT with disrespect of the legal process

Earlier this week, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued an order effectively blocking the resumption of construction a the Thirty Meter Telescope site on Mauna Kea by temporarily lifting the permit issued by DLNR for the TMT project.

The order was in response to an emergency motion filed on Monday by the attorney for plaintiffs seeking to block the TMT project from proceeding. You can read the emergency motion and supporting documents here.

The motion seems relatively thin on substance. It consists of a repetitious review of the legal history of the case, and accuses the TMT of a “blatant disregard and disrespect of the legal process” by attempting to take any steps prior to the court’s pending decision on the lawsuit challenging the original decision by DLNR to issue a permit for the TMT.

The matter was a little complicated, because the project is actually being built by the TMT Observatory International Corporation, made up of a consortium of institutions sponsoring the telescope. The corporation was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, so the court couldn’t simply order the corporation to stop any work. The workaround taken in the motion was to ask for the permit to be temporarily stayed, which the court agreed to do.

I have to agree that the attempt to start any work related to the project prior to the court’s ruling on the case was a mistake. It’s hard to see that several weeks would make any difference in the long run.

But one has to wonder whether “respect for the legal process” will still be the order of the day for the Mauna Kea “protectors” if the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision falls short of fully blocking the TMT from moving forward. That’s obviously going to be the next political test.

The sounds of the morning mynah birds

Waialae Beach ParkSince we moved back to Kahala and have been walking to the beach before dawn, there’s something been nagging at me. I finally figured out that it’s banyan tree that you see in this photo.

Actually, it’s the sound of the mynah birds in the banyan, located next to the parking lot at Waialae Beach Park, where Kahala Avenue runs in past the Waialae Country Club, the Kahala apartments, and on to the hotel.

There’s a period before dawn, which I recall being repeated during evening twilight, when the mynah birds gather by the hundreds or thousands in a raucous wave of bird sounds. It’s loud, but I realize that I don’t find it objectionable in the least because similar sounds are embedded in my small-kid-time memories.

I was probably somewhere between five and ten years old when my father would walk my sister and I down the street to the Waialae Beach Park after dinner several times a week, then either walk for a while across the golf course as it got dark, or go over to the beach and walk past the dairy where the cows were milked.

And along the way, there were several trees where the rowdy birds would be gathering before settling down for the night. It’s the same sound we now hear in the mornings.

Today I walked over beneath the tree and recorded a bit of the experience with my iPhone.

Click here to listen to the mynahs as the sounded on Sunday morning. I’ll eventually have to try this again with a proper microphone, but this will do for now.

I hope you enjoy it.

Hawaii Supreme Court rejects city sleight of hand on beachfront hotel variance

Congratulations are due to the Surfrider Foundation, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Ka Iwi Coalition, and Kahea: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, for their successful appeal of the zoning variance that would have allowed a new hotel wing to replace the existing Diamond Head wing of the Moana Surfrider Hotel with a new 26-story tower on the beach in Waikiki. The new building, which had been granted a variance from various zoning requirements, would have created a 74% encroachment on the coastal height setback.

You can read the court’s decision here. It’s well worth at least skimming through.

The variance had been granted by the city’s planning director. The director’s decision was then upheld by the Zoning Appeals Board, and also upheld by the Circuit Court.

But the plaintiffs persisted.

I wrote about the case last year in a Civil Beat column after the Supreme Couirt agreed to hear the case, (“Hawaii Monitor: Shifting the Sands to Evade Waikiki’s Zoning Limits“).

If you don’t subscribe to Civil Beat, you can read that column here.

The court’s unanimous decision, released this week, rejected pretty much all of the city’s rulings on the variance, finding that none of the three criteria had been met.

The question becomes this: How did the city, with multiple levels of review, get it so wrong? And how is it that the review by the Circuit Court also gave the city and the hotel a pass?

Is there an explanation that doesn’t involve some kind of straight-out political manipulation of the process?

The Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t offer any hints at where the whole process came off the tracks, and it is not at all likely that the city itself will take a closer look to determine what went wrong and how to correct it in the future.

I would welcome suggestions from those of you with experience inside the beast as to how this process went so wrong.

Republicans apparently fear limits on greenhouse gases more than threat of global warming

There’s been a rather startling juxtaposition of climate change stories in the news in recent days.

USA Today wrote about a new scientific report on the long-term consequences of continuing to consume all of the fossil fuels available to us (“Study: Fossil fuel burn-off will submerge U.S. cities”).

Over the next 100 years, the authors predict something over one inch of sea level rise per year.

For those of us living on islands, this isn’t a comfortable prospect. In the lifespan of a standard 30-year mortgage, that could mean that many oceanfront properties could become uninhabitable.

Despite that unpleasant prospect, one of the authors, Ken Caldeira, thinks we can deal with those relatively near term impacts. It’s the longer term that he looks at, the next thousand years.

“Most projections this century are two to three feet of sea level rise, which we can deal with,” Caldeira said. “But 100 feet basically means abandoning London, Rome, Paris, Tokyo and New York.”

And, of course, we seem to be feeling some of the impacts of climate change already, with fewer days of tradewinds over the course of the year, more hot, muggy weather, and more frequent threats from tropical storms. Sea level rise is still to come.

So that’s the view from one side.

On the other side have been several news stories detailing the Republicans’ political agenda, which has reportedly moved from opposing measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to active attempts to subvert any international climate change agreements.

An article by Joe Romm was cross-posted on several sites in the past few days (“In Radical Shift, GOP Leaders Actively Embrace Catastrophic Climate Change“).

…for most of the past quarter-century, most of the GOP leadership has at least given lip service to the idea that global warming is a global problem that needs a global solution. Not only have they abandoned that public position, but they now apparently believe the role of the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation is to actively work to undermine the world’s best chance to save billions of people — including generations of Americans — from needless misery.

See also, Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine, “The Republican Plot to Destroy an International Climate Agreement,” which covers much of the same ground.

Chait writes:

Why would Republicans try to persuade the rest of the world to keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? One reason is that, while other countries transitioning to low-emission fuels may not cost American consumers anything, it definitely costs American fossil-fuel companies. People who own large deposits of coal and oil want to sell it abroad. The Republican climate-change strategy has been hatched by a group of Republican politicians and fossil-fuel lobbyists so tightly intermingled there seems to be no distinction between the interests of the two. (“In the early months of 2014, a group of about 30 corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists and Republican political strategists began meeting regularly in the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, often, according to some of the participants, in a conference room overlooking the White House. Their task was to start devising a legal strategy for dismantling the climate change regulations they feared were coming from President Obama.”) Beyond the straightforward self-interest of coal and oil companies, there is the ancient right-wing distrust of international agreements in general. Plus, of course, Republicans continue to follow a policy of across-the-board opposition to the whole Obama administration agenda. Destroying an international climate agreement means denying an Obama legacy; what more do they want?

And focus on the GOP agenda isn’t new.

For example, Lisa Friedman, writing at in early July, GOP senators vow to block U.S. from complying with global climate deal.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), speaking after a hearing in which he and other GOP lawmakers questioned Obama’s authority to enter into even a voluntary U.N. climate deal, said he expects to follow up with legislation. But, he acknowledged, there is probably not much congressional opponents of reducing carbon emissions can do to stop the Obama administration from signing onto the agreement expected in Paris this December.

“They’re going to tell [the international community] that they don’t need to have ratification. I can’t stop him from doing that. But we can stop us from living with an agreement that we’re not a part of,” Inhofe said.

His solution to meeting the U.S. pledge? “Just don’t do it.”

This is apparently the message being conveyed to leaders of other countries. If the Republicans win the White House, they’ll make sure that the U.S. abrogates whatever agreements are entered into by the Obama administration.

It’s akin to the letter sent by a group of members of Congress to Iranian leaders vowing to scuttle the nuclear deal if they are given a chance.

Pretty spooky stuff, in my view.

Especially after our recent taste of what a warmer ocean means for us in the years ahead.

Hypotheticals and the NextEra deal

Civil Beat’s Nathan Eagle reports today on the variety of questions being posed to NextEra regarding its proposed takeover of Hawaiian Electric Industries (“What Would a Nuclear Disaster in Florida Mean for Hawaiian Electric?“).

Several of the questions posed by staff of the Public Utilities Commission question the effects a hypothetical meltdown of a nuclear power plant owned by NextEra could have on the power company in Hawaii.

“Would it hurt the companies’ credit rating? Would it limit their ability to provide financial support for Hawaii’s clean energy transformation? Would NextEra have to take money from Hawaiian Electric’s dividend payments to cover any claims that could result from such a catastrophe?”

That prompted a friend of mine, also a regular reader of this blog, to launch his own questions.

Dear NextEra,

We have some more important questions for you to answer. Very important.

What would you do if mars crashes into Hawaii?

What would you do if the stock market falls? (Heaven forfend.)

What would you do if Hawaii is hit by 10 hurricanes?

What would you do if Hawaii might get hit by 10 mega hurricanes but doesn’t?

What would you do if a Hawaii nonprofit claims armageddon, again? (If you complain enough, someday one of them will come true.)

What would do if rail bankrupts every single person on Oahu?

What would you do if every single bloody person over 60 in Hawaii cries wolf over coffee?

What would you do if

What would you do if

NextEra responds:

You’re getting desperate. Grow up. Is change really that hard for you folks?