Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Senate, House
at odds over Kona
CO2 test

The experiment would pump
the gas into the sea; opponents
say it may harm marine life

By Rod Thompson

KAILUA-KONA >> The state Legislature is wrestling with whether to endorse or reverse its position that pumping carbon dioxide into the ocean should be studied as a possible way to reduce global warming.

Scientists are planning an experiment in Kona waters that would test whether some carbon dioxide from power plants could be kept out of the atmosphere by pumping it deep into the ocean.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 158 says the state should cooperate with the Kona experiment.

House Resolution 64 opposes it. A hearing on the House resolution is to be held tomorrow at 9:15 a.m. in House Conference Room 325.

Last year, the Legislature directed that the reduction, avoidance or "sequestration" of greenhouse gases -- including carbon dioxide -- should be a state energy objective, said state energy analyst Steve Alber.

"Sequestration" means locking carbon dioxide deep in the ocean.

The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona voted recently to deny approval for the experiment for about five square miles of ocean it controls. Another version of the experiment might be done nearby.

Jay Scharf, a spokesman for the Moku Loa (Big Island) group of the Sierra Club, said the Energy Laboratory area is a prime fishing ground and part of a whale sanctuary.

He said scientists cannot guarantee that no harm will be done.

Experiment spokesman Gerard Nihous said an environmental assessment, considering a worst-case possibility, does say some individuals of species 3,000 feet below the surface could be killed by acidity.

But none of the carbon dioxide would reach the surface, and there would be no danger to marlin, whales or coral, he said.

Despite the cautiousness of the environmental assessment, scientists do not expect the mild acidity -- at its worst, less than that of beer -- to kill marine life, he said.

David Holzman, head of a coalition of 25 organizations opposing the experiment, said more laboratory biological studies are needed before the ocean experiment is done.

Nihous said the experiment includes biological studies.

Scharf linked the experiment to a state document called Hawaii Energy Strategy 2000, which supports a small pilot power plan in Hawaii, which would pump carbon dioxide into the ocean.

Energy analyst Alber, who wrote most of the Energy Strategy, says it is a list of ideas without the force of law.

Despite the strategy, Nihous says he thinks a pilot plant in Hawaii is unlikely.

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