Hawaii poised to be leader in slowing climate change
WITH THE passage of House Bill 226 this legislative session, our island state became a national leader in the effort to reduce carbon emissions and stem the tide of climate change.
I was honored to be a primary co-sponsor of this bill, along with Reps. Josh Green (D, Keauhou-Honokohau) and John Mizuno (D, Kalihi). I strongly believe that this is one of the requisite steps toward realizing a sustainable future for Hawaii.
HB 226 establishes a task force to assess greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in Hawaii and develop a regulatory scheme to significantly reduce emissions. The statewide objective is to collectively reduce our emissions to the 1990 level by the year 2020. Given our current trend of annually increasing carbon emissions, combined with the fact that we generate nearly all of our electricity from fossil fuels, achieving this goal will greatly improve our state's profile of environmental responsibility.
THE EARTH'S atmosphere is now warming at the fastest rate in recorded history, a trend that is projected to cause extensive damage to forests, marine ecosystems and agriculture. Communities also are imperiled by rising sea levels, storms of greater intensity, and increasingly severe instances of drought and flooding. The scientific consensus is that recent climate change is caused at least in part by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, which has driven atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to their highest levels in more than 400,000 years.
Climate change poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources and environment of Hawaii. The potential harmful effects of global warming include a rise in sea levels, resulting in the displacement of businesses and residences and the inundation of Hawaii's freshwater aquifers, damage to marine ecosystems and the natural environment, extended drought and loss of soil moisture, an increase in the spread of infectious diseases, and in the severity of storms and extreme weather events.
HAWAII HAS long been a leader in environmental stewardship and is endeavoring to lead the way in alternative renewable energy development and use. Achieving the objectives set forth in HB 226 will require us to pioneer and implement new technologies, create new industries and stimulate our economic sector. Ideally, we could be a Pacific Basin hub for high-tech renewable energy technology.
By requiring that we achieve 1990-level emissions, HB 226 essentially brings our small state into line with the Kyoto Protocols. In terms of tonnage, HB 226 won't significantly affect the excessive amount of carbon emissions globally; thankfully, we don't have such a large carbon footprint. However, it does send an important message to other states, which collectively constitute one of our planet's largest polluters. It is also indicative of the intricate connections between our unique environment and society in Hawaii, and emphasizes our concerns with the harmful effects brought by carbon emissions -- both locally and globally.
California led the way in 2006 when its legislature passed a similar measure, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. HB 226 puts Hawaii at the forefront of the fight to reduce GHG emissions and increasingly rely upon renewable energy resources and sustainable living practices. By legislating these standards where the federal government has failed to do so, we are not only being environmentally responsible; we are exercising our constitutionally guaranteed right to forge ahead when the federal government has lagged. We at the Legislature are eager to uphold our tradition of environmental leadership, and anticipate that other states will follow Hawaii's and California's action.
As stated in the bill, the business sectors most affected by HB 226 will be electrical utilities, refinery operations, ground transportation industry and maritime industry. The air transportation industry is exempt. The House speaker and Senate president will appoint representatives from these industries to the task force. However, any plan that seeks to drastically reduce Hawaii's carbon emissions must recognize that the bulk of our emissions come from those sectors that burn or use fossil fuels. As a state, we must replace the lion's share of our fossil fuel-derived power sources with clean, renewable energy systems.
A solidly built portfolio of wind, ocean thermal energy conversion, solar and especially wave energy could drastically reduce Hawaii's GHG emissions. Furthermore, given the volatile nature of the oil market, finite global oil reserves and the increasing demand for oil, renewable energy has the added benefit of being cheaper in the long run. Quite simply, it is in the best interests of the people of Hawaii that we transition from oil-based energy systems to renewable ones.
PERHAPS THE most telling fact about HB 226 is the broad bipartisan support it received in our highly polarized Legislature. The bill passed by a vote of 48-2 in the House and 22-3 in the Senate. Such support underscores the pressing need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions not only in Hawaii but in the nation as a whole. Throughout the state, people urged us to pass this bill. We did so with the hope that our actions might spur others to do their part in preventing the most dire predictions of respected climate scientists from becoming reality.
Cynthia Thielen, a Republican, represents Kaneohe and Kailua in the state House of Representatives.