Thielen deserves confirmation at DLNR
The Superferry controversy demonstrates that Hawaii's booming development since the 1960s has created overwhelming environmental and social problems not adequately addressed by our present fragmented and cumbersome governmental system. While the state and counties have all kinds of planning processes on the books, too often they exist more as vague guidelines that are not followed in practice.
Issues of environmental limits and sustainability will become even more critical as the islands begin to be affected by global climate change, and rising costs of food, energy and transportation, due to peak oil driving the costs of fuel skyhigh.
Fortunately, the state Legislature has begun to seriously recognize the magnitude of these issues. It passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2007, which sets an enforceable limit on Hawaii's greenhouse gas emissions, and established the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force.
Laura Thielen, now acting director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, represents exactly the kind of dynamic new government leadership we desperately need to take Hawaii into the 21st century. DLNR's main responsibilities include managing: aquatic resources, boating and ocean recreation; the division of conservation, resource and land; and Hawaii's forests, wildlife and state parks land, historic sites and coastal lands. This is a daunting task by itself, but many other governmental bureaucracies have overlapping responsibilities, and too often we see agonizingly slow responses (if not gridlock) from all the agencies involved.
Though I have advocated that Hawaii needs a streamlined Department of Sustainability to coordinate all these agencies, I am impressed that Thielen is initiating several innovative programs within DLNR. She is working with three departments -- Agriculture, Health and Business, Economic Development & Tourism -- to identify locations for environmentally and culturally responsible renewable energy and aquaculture facilities. She is developing a "common vision and mission" between the various divisions within DLNR itself.
Thielen is unusually qualified to take on this fresh-for-government set of initiatives. She served as the director of the state Office of Planning, which is tasked with developing comprehensive, long-range and strategic planning. She administered the state's Coastal Zone Management Program. The Office of Planning is taking the lead in a multiagency effort to establish, promote and coordinate the use of geographic information systems technology. Other projects under her guidance include reclaiming former industrial sites; urban land studies; a summary of financial and technical assistance programs for the conservation of natural resources; the Leeward Coast Initiative; the Hawaii Ocean Resources Management Plan; and the Hawaii Statewide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.
Holding a master's degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a law degree, Thielen worked with LHT Services, which provided project development, research and technical writing services to nonprofit and governmental agencies. Thielen's forte is environmental and land use issues.
Thielen is exceptionally qualified to lead the DLNR in these challenging times. Besides practicing an integrative approach to environmental and land and water use issues, she is firm in her commitment to expanding public participation in resolving these often contentious problems.
I hope our senators quickly confirm her directorship and give Thielen all the assistance she needs to revitalize this important department.
Ira Rohter is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.