Finding the balance: OEQC and the Environmental Council

Posted on Apr 24, 2018 in Featured

OEQC director Scott Glenn and Environmental Council chair Onaona Thoene by the mural in the Leiopapa a Kamehameha Building.

Accountability. Fairness. Maintaining a balance between conservation and economic development while getting public feedback. That’s the mission of Hawai‘i’s Environmental Council and the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) under the Ige administration.

The Environmental Council is a citizen-led volunteer group appointed by the governor to act as a link between the public and the governor, legislature and federal, state and county agencies on projects that affect communities. Their role is to ensure that a fair, balanced review process is followed for a project — whether it’s a building, bridge, bikeway or beach. That’s no small matter since some of the projects — either by a public agency or a private entity — could involve a wide range of environmental, social, economic, and cultural impacts. “The council’s role is to help highlight citizen concerns,” said OEQC director Scott Glenn. “It’s a pathway to let the public know what’s being planned to avoid bad impacts.”

Now, for the first time in more than 20 years, the rules governing the process for environmental assessments (EA) and environmental impact statements (EIS) are undergoing comprehensive updating. Public hearings on the latest draft of these rules will be held this month (See schedule). For the first time in several years, the 15-member council includes at least one representative from every island — Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, Maui, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i and O‘ahu. The new chair, Puananionaona “Onaona” Thoene, is an attorney with the Carlsmith Ball law firm. Other members come from business, community development, non-profits, engineering, urban planning, and environmental education.

“We all have full-time jobs, but we want to use our experience to contribute to the community,” said Thoene. “We all want to make this process better for everyone.” She praised the revitalization of the council to bring openness to the planning process. “Scott and Governor Ige made a huge effort to fill all the council seats so now we can meet quorum and take action,” she said. “Balancing conservation and development is a really important thing.”

Why update the rules now? The revisions are part of a broader effort by the OEQC and the council to make the processes more understandable and accessible. “We wanted to modernize the rules to make it easier for the public to participate and incorporate emerging issues like climate change,” said Glenn. His office also improved the format of the twice monthly bulletin, “The Environmental Notice” — one of the main public sources of project information on each island — and made it easier for citizens to look up EAs and EISes. Citizens can also go to the OEQC website to receive the bulletin in their email as well as updates on the rule revision process. “We’ve tried a friendlier approach to capture the balance between development and the environment,” said Glenn. “The law that governs what the Environmental Council and OEQC do is about public engagement.” Thoene added, “It’s not favoring one side over the other. We try to stay true to that.”

 

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Environmental Council public hearings
Amendments are posted online at http://health.hawaii.gov/oeqc/rules-update

O‘ahu – May 21, 9 -11 am, State Capitol Auditorium; and May 21, 6 – 8 pm, Department of Health board room, 1250 Punchbowl St.
Hawai‘i island – Hilo – May 22, 9 – 11 am, Hawai‘i Environmental Health conference room, 1582 Kamehameha Ave.; Kona – May 22, 5 – 7 pm, West Hawai‘i Civic Center, council chambers, Kailua-Kona.
Moloka‘i – Thursday, May 24, 3 – 5 pm, Mitchell Pauole Community Center, Kaunakakai.
Kaua‘i – Tuesday May 29, 6 – 8 pm, Wilcox Elementary School cafeteria, Lihue.
Lana‘i – Wednesday, May 30, 3 – 5 pm, Lana‘i High and Elementary School cafeteria, Lana‘i City.
Maui – Thursday, May 31, 9:30 – 11:30 am, Wailuku State Office Building, 3rd floor conference room A,B,C; and May 31, 5 – 7 pm, Maui Waena Intermediate School cafeteria, Kahului.

Read more in May Capitol Connection newsletter