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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Environmental neglect
costs UH $1.7 million

Bullet The issue: The University of Hawaii has been fined $1.7 million for mishandling hazardous chemicals.
Bullet Our view: This is a case of massive negligence for which someone should be held accountable.

THE conventional wisdom associates environmental pollution with private enterprise. "Corporate greed" is the customary explanation for despoliation of nature. Well, the biggest fine ever levied in Hawaii for mishandling hazardous chemicals has just been assessed, and it's not against any business. It's against that august public institution, the University of Hawaii.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Health Department have hit UH with a $1.7 million fine for mishandling hazardous materials in a chemistry building at the Manoa campus and at agricultural research facilities on Kauai and the Big Island.

Officials discovered a container-load of hazardous chemicals, including flammables, acids, poisons and unknown substances at Bilger Hall and the university's environmental protection facilities in 1997. Chemical storage violations were also found at the two neighbor island facilities.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the penalty was the highest ever levied in Hawaii. Anderson said he didn't want to take money from another state agency but the EPA insisted that part of the penalty be paid in cash. That will amount to $505,000 -- $120,000 to the federal government and $385,000 to the state. The university will be allowed to offset the remainder of the penalty by undergoing a $1.2 million system-wide audit of hazardous waste disposal.

Anderson said the university has cooperated with the state's investigation since 1997, but added, "This, however, does not excuse the past lack of attention to the problem." No indeed.

When one government agency fines another, it doesn't mean much to the taxpayer. The money goes from one government account to another. But there are also real costs to be paid.

UH Vice President Eugene Imai said the university took quick action to correct the problem after it was discovered. UH hired five additional people to work in environmental and hazardous waste management, purchased chemical testing kits for its facilities and created a training program for waste disposal.

But what were UH administrators doing before the problem was discovered? This appears to be a spectacular case of apathy and negligence on someone's part -- someone on the public payroll. This is a $1.7 million bureaucratic blunder, at taxpayers' expense. Someone ought to be held accountable for it.

withdrawal scrambles
Israeli race

Bullet The issue: Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn from the election for prime minister of Israel.
Bullet Our view: The current prime minister, Ehud Barak, has a better chance of victory against the probable conservative candidate, Ariel Sharon.

THE withdrawal of Benjamin Netanyahu from the race for prime minister has further scrambled Israel's politics. The conservative Netanyahu, who lost the prime ministership to Ehud Barak only 18 months ago, currently is favored in opinion polls to retake the leadership position from the floundering Barak.

Netanyahu had said he would be a candidate only if elections were held for the parliament as well as for prime minister, who is now elected separately. But the legislative elections proposal was rejected, and Netanyahu bowed out accordingly.

Netanyahu is not a member of parliament and would be barred from running for prime minister under current law. Parliament approved a bill that would allow Netanyahu to run, but he stood by his call for legislative elections.

With Netanyahu out, Ariel Sharon appears likely to be Barak's opponent. Sharon's candidacy could be highly polarizing. A former general like Barak, he is widely criticized for leading the unsuccessful 1982 war in Lebanon while defense minister and his connection with the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees by pro-Israeli Lebanese militiamen. Victory for Sharon could spell the end of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Barak's political stock has fallen sharply since the failure of the Camp David peace talks and the weeks of rioting that followed a visit by Sharon to a site in Jerusalem that is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims. A breakthrough in peace talks could boost Barak's standing but that seems highly unlikely to occur under current circumstances.

The liberal Barak lost his parliamentary majority in July when three conservative parties left his governing coalition to protest concessions he was prepared to make to the Palestinians. Having resigned on Dec. 9, he is now a caretaker prime minister, serving until the election. Sentiment in Israel seems to favor a comeback by Netanyahu but his withdrawal seems to rule that out.

Yasser Arafat had a chance to conclude a comprehensive peace agreement with Barak at Camp David but rejected Barak's offer on the crucial issue of the status of Jerusalem. He is not likely to have another opportunity in the near future.

Israel's problems are further complicated by the end of the Clinton administration. The role of the United States under President-elect George Bush is yet to be defined, but the inexperienced Bush can hardly be expected to play as active a role in the Middle East peace process as Clinton has.

Without continued U.S. pressure on both parties, chances are slim that the damage to the peace process caused by the current violence can be reversed.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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