Monday, May 11, 1998

Historic House switch
on Bishop trustee pay

IN an historic turn-about forced by an aroused public, the state House voted to limit the compensation of Bishop Estate trustees by applying the test of reasonableness as determined by a probate judge. The vote Friday came three days after the House had rejected the same proposal by a single vote, 26-25. The House had previously authorized a six-month study of the compensation question, thereby ducking the issue for the current session, while the Senate had approved the reasonableness standard.

Rep. Ed Case started unraveling the House position by bringing the question to the floor in an unorthodox tactic that amounted to a revolt against the House leadership. Adding to the public anger over the initial defeat was the fact that two representatives with strong ties to the Bishop Estate, Terrance Tom and Robert Herkes, cast crucial votes against the proposal.

But that became academic as House members who voted against Case on the basis of loyalty to the House leadership developed misgivings. To his credit, Speaker Joe Souki recognized the need to defer to public opinion and the wishes of many representatives and let the issue come up again, if only for the sake of legislative unity. This time Case's bill passed with only a single dissenting vote -- cast by Calvin Say.

Two leading critics of the Bishop Estate trustees, attorney "Beadie" Kanahele Dawson and Attorney General Margery Bronster, wanted the Legislature to approve a cap on trustee compensation, which currently exceeds $800,000 a year. They proposed to tie it to the pay of the chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court, currently about $95,000. They said the bill as approved was a modest improvement but could result in much costly litigation that could have been avoided.

Nevertheless, this is a sweet victory. After many years of refusing to deal with mounting public outrage over the huge commissions accepted by Bishop Estate trustees, the Legislature has reluctantly confronted the need to act.

Bishop Estate Archive

Bald eagle’s comeback

AN environmental success story: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has taken the first step toward removing 27 species from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Among them is no less than the symbol of America -- the bald eagle. Until the early 1940s eagles were viewed as vermin and bounties were placed on them. Thirty-five years ago there were 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Now there are about 5,000 pairs. The eagle population is growing at an encouraging 8 percent a year.

That's a great advertisement for the Endangered Species Act. But it seems likely that the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972 -- DDT made eagle eggs so weak that nesting birds would crack the shell before the embryos could develop -- and laws prohibiting the hunting of bald eagles had more to do with the bird's recovery than the endangered species law itself.

Also coming off the endangered list are the peregrine falcon, the gray wolf and 24 lesser known species. It's the lesser known -- sometimes entirely obscure except to biologists -- species that are the problem. People can't understand why the government should restrict use of their property to protect plants or animals they never heard of, much less value. There are 1,135 species on the endangered list.

That's why the Endangered Species Act is itself endangered. The law expired in 1992 and has since been renewed on a year-to-year basis. The rescue of the bald eagle should not obscure the need to amend the law to ease the burden for owners of property that is or could be a habitat for an endangered species.


Korean nuclear threat

FOUR years ago the United States, alarmed by a North Korean nuclear weapons program, negotiated an agreement with Pyongyang aimed at eliminating that threat to East Asian security. Under the pact, North Korea agreed to freeze operations at its nuclear reactor, which the U.S. suspected was aimed at producing fuel for weapons production, in return for two 1,000 megawatt light-water nuclear reactors that would produce much less weapons-grade fuel.

The agreement also called for interim fuel oil deliveries until the new reactors were completed. The United States was to supply 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year, while Japan and South Korea were to finance the reactor construction.

North Korea is now charging that the U.S. and its allies are reneging on the deal and hinting that it might resume its nuclear program. A Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that the U.S. had not been making its fuel deliveries "in time" and had not submitted a schedule for deliveries this year. The spokesman also expressed doubts that one of the light-water nuclear reactors would be completed on time.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering responded that anything that would undermine the nuclear agreement would be "lamentable and regrettable." That's putting it mildly.

Despite the criticism of the United States, the big question is whether Japan and South Korea will pay the billions of dollars they pledged for the reactor construction. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raised the issue on recent visits to Seoul and Tokyo, apparently without obtaining firm commitments.

Both South Korea and Japan are preoccupied with their economic problems and Seoul would be particularly hard-pressed to make good on its pledge. But without the support of the two governments the deal could collapse. Washington may have to put up the money as a last resort.

Pyongyang has also been developing missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. North Korea with nuclear weapons is a frightening prospect.

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