3 state Environmental Council members quit


POSTED: Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Three members of the state Environmental Council have quietly resigned in recent weeks, alleging the governor ignored their work.

In separate resignation letters, they also accuse the state of failing to provide the panel with the funds, staff and equipment they need to hold meetings and otherwise function.

The council, which has 15 members appointed by the governor, helps the state make sure its rules governing environmental impact statements are in line with state law.

Gov. Linda Lingle's office has made no public statement on the resignations and referred questions to Kathy Kealoha, director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Kealoha, whose position gives her a seat on the council, acknowledged there have been communication problems but denied the governor ignored the council's work. She said the administration has responded to the council's proposals.

The council has the power to suggest changes to rules governing the preparation of environmental impact statements and assessments but no power to enforce them. It also reviews criteria under which environmental studies do not need to be done and discusses exemptions with state departments.

Robert A. King, past council chairman and president of Kahului-based Pacific Biodiesel, said he had a responsibility to step down because the council was unable to accomplish what it is required to do.

“;I cannot perform my duties due to a lack of support by the administration,”; King wrote in his letter to Lingle dated April 7. “;Frustration has led me to resign my position.”;

The low-key council was last in the news in 2007, when it passed a resolution saying the state should conduct an environmental impact statement for the Hawaii Superferry. This opinion came in February, six months before the state Supreme Court arrived at a similar conclusion and forced the high-speed interisland ferry service to suspend operations.

King said inadequate funding and staffing inside the state bureaucracy were among the issues preventing the council from being able to its job.

But most seriously, King said, the Governor's Office ignored the council's proposals to revise the state's rules for environmental impact statements. The revisions were the result of “;several years and hundreds of hours”; of work by the council and state employees.

Kealoha said the rule changes were submitted to the Governor's Office a few months before Kealoha took office in February 2008.

She said the Governor's Office received the rule changes and responded in a timely manner, but she said she has been unable to find any documentation to show that it did.

Part of the problem, Kealoha said, is that all communication between the council and the Governor's Office must go through the Department of Health. “;I just don't know where the breakdown in communication back to the council was,”; Kealoha said.

Two other council members who resigned last month said the council was unable to gather the data it needed last year to prepare an annual report because of inadequate staff. They are David Byland, director of design and sustainability at Honolulu-based Architects Hawaii Ltd., and Wade Lord, chairman of the board for the Kauai Visitors Bureau and a vice president at CB Richard Ellis in Lihue.