FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 31st, 2007
CONTACT: Jeff Mikulina 226-4987
Legislature bails out Superferry
Casting sustainability aside, the legislature exempts high-speed ferry from keystone environmental review law
STATE CAPITOL – The Hawai`i State Legislature, operating on a threat from Hawai`i Superferry that they will leave the state if they are not granted a special privilege to circumvent Hawaii's environmental law, passed a bill permitting the Superferry to begin operations before an environmental review is complete. Throughout the special session called by Governor Linda Lingle expressly to bail out the Superferry, the Sierra Club argued that the session sets an unfair and dangerous precedent, damages Hawaii's three-decade old environmental protection act, and may expose Hawaii's environment to irreparable harms.
The final vote in the Senate on the measure was 6 ayes, 14 "ayes with reservations," and 5 no votes. In the House, 39 voted in favor of the bill, 11 voted against, and 1 legislator was absent.
"The legislature has chosen political expediency over sustainability," said Jeff Mikulina, Director of the Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter. "This measure circumvents Hawaii's three-decade old environmental review law to grant a special favor to a single lawbreaking entity."
"This is a sad day not only for Hawaii's sustainability, but for democracy," said Lance Holter, Chair of the Maui Group of the Sierra Club. "Not only did the legislature rush through a bill to override the judiciary branch, the legislature allowed the final outcome of the measure to be dictated by the Superferry Corporation."
Despite many concerns about the yet unexamined environmental and social impacts of the Superferry, the legislature chose not to add meaningful conditions to protect Hawaii's environment while the review is being completed. Further, the legislature did not provide a clear mechanism to implement protections recommended through the environmental review.
"The purpose of the environmental impact statement process is to ask tough questions about the real environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic impacts, examine alternatives, and outline steps to prevent adverse impacts," said Holter. "The Superferry bailout turns that on its head. Since Superferry will be operating before the review is complete, the environmental impact statement preparation may simply be an empty exercise."
During four weeks of testimony before Judge Joseph Cardoza last month, experts discussed the environmental impacts of the Superferry operating without the benefit of the environmental review. With the Superferry shuttling hundreds of vehicles dailyboth personal cars and commercial farm vehiclesa new pathway for invasive species transport between the islands will be opened. Biologists have serious concerns about the potential spread of invasive species such as the recently discovered varroa bee mite that is currently found only on O`ahu. Unless strict control and inspection programs are in place and funded, species such as miconia (miconia calvescens), agricultural pests, and mongoose can easily become stowaways on board. During the hearings, Judge Cardoza also heard from whale experts who expressed concern over the Superferry's potential to harm calving whales due to the vessel's size and speed. They believed slower speeds and different routes would reduce the possibility of fatal whale strikes.
While the Senate amended the original measure to include some operating conditions, the requirements fell far short of what was required to adequately protect Hawaii's fragile environment. No speed restrictions were placed on Superferry, despite ample evidence suggesting that speeds over 13 knots in areas where whales were known to congregate may lead to more fatal strikes. A condition that requires Superferry to request a marine mammal "observer" from the National Marine Fisheries Service may be meaningless as Federal officials have stated in emails to the Senate that they lack the ability to provide such an observer. The bill establishes no rigorous protocol beyond quick inspections to prevent the spread of invasive species interisland.
"It defies reason that the 13 knot limit in certain areas was not accepted as a condition to help protect humpback whales and the numerous other species of endangered and threatened whales, dolphins, monk seals, and sea turtles found in Hawaii waters," said Judy Dalton, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club, Kauai Group. "By adding a nominal amount of time to trips, Superferry could greatly reduce the likelihood of collisions. Baby whales will not stand a chance of getting out of the way of the speeding ferry without safe limits."
"Our environmental review process is used to understand and fix problems before they occur," said Mikulina. "But since this bill cuts that process short, we believed it was the responsibility of the legislaturethe body that is granting this extraordinary and risky privilege to the Superferry companyto be accountable for the potential adverse impacts of the Superferry and therefore place reasonable conditions on its operation. They failed."
The Sierra Club extended its appreciation to Senators Gary Hooser, J. Kalani English, Russell Kokubun, Roz Baker, and Shan Tsutsui and Representatives Lyla Berg, Mele Carroll, Faye Hanohano, Hermina Morita, Marcus Oshiro, Scott Saiki, Maile Shimabukuro, Alex Sonson, Dwight Takamine, Roy Takumi, and James Tokioka for standing by Hawaii's environmental review law.
"We are disappointed that the legislature chose to cast aside sustainability in the interest of political expediency," said Mikulina. "If a three-decade old environmental law is scrapped for a single company, how are we to expect lasting policy decisions that sustain Hawaii's future?"
The Sierra Club is currently examining its next steps in the wake of the Superferry legislation. In the interim, the organization will be asking Governor Linda Lingle to impose minimum operating conditions on Superferry to protect marine mammals, reduce the spread of invasive species, and prevent resource damage.
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Director, Sierra Club, Hawai'i Chapter
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