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Oil tax debate overrides debut of Clean Energy Day


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POSTED: Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona took the stage at the inaugural Hawaii Powered Clean Energy Festival at Aloha Tower to declare yesterday Clean Energy Day in Hawaii.

But some environmentalists at the event say they are disappointed with the Lingle/Aiona administration and state Senate for failing to pass an oil tax to support alternative energy.

Bill 1271, which Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed, would have raised the per-barrel tax for oil distributors, costing drivers about two to three cents a gallon and raising $31 million annually for alternative energy and food safety programs.

State senators failed last week to override Lingle's veto.

At the festival, booths showcased solar panels, vegetable oil turned into biofuel, and electric bicycles.

Jeff Mikulina, the executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, which sponsored the fair, said money from the oil tax would have created jobs and eased the state's dependence on fluctuating oil prices.

“;This is exactly the time we should be doing this,”; he said. “;We are totally at the mercy of imported oil.”;

Mikulina said the impact of the tax would have been “;very nominal,”; and that residents are hurt more by rising oil prices.

Before declaring yesterday Clean Energy Day, Aiona told the crowd that the state must move away from spending $7 billion annually on imported oil, which provides 90 percent of the state's energy.

Aiona said the oil tax wasn't proper for the current economy and said there are be other ways to fund the energy initiative.

“;We'll get there,”; he said.

Aiona said the state is committed to the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which sets a goal of the state producing 70 percent of its energy by 2030.

But Robert King, president of Pacific Biodiesel, which creates biodiesel from vegetable oil, said the governor's veto showed lack of commitment.

“;The whole HCEI mission to me is a farce if they can't take that step”; of passing the barrel tax bill, he said.”;

Some, however, were not certain the bill was good for Hawaii.

“;It's a little contentious,”; said Corrin Cunningham, a University of Hawaii graduate student with the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum. She said the group, which includes oil company representatives, couldn't come to an agreement on the bill and didn't take a stance.