OPINION: EPA Maui Hearing an Expensive Farce

June 1, 2012, 4:24 PM HST · Updated June 18, 5:59 AM
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By Susan Halas

ban ag burning

A member of the crowd held up a sign protesting opening burning at the EPA hearing. Susan Halas photo.

The EPA came to Maui last night to host a public hearing on proposed new regulations related to haze as it affects the Haleakala National Park on Maui and Volcano National Park on the Big Island.

About 50 Mauians attended the meeting held at the UH-Maui College campus. A total of 20 signed up to testify.

Federal and state officials got an earful of angry comments and pleas for assistance.

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However the testimony had little to do with the air quality at the summit, instead most comments were focused on the open burning of cane here by HC&S, and the assertion that it is detrimental to the health of island residents.

Many who testified also pointed out that six out of the eight identified sources that could contribute to the haze (such as agricultural burning) had been exempted from consideration by the EPA.

“There is no evidence of agricultural burning is contributing to the haze in Hawaii’s national parks and additional controls on sugarcane burning, beyond the existing agricultural burn permit program, are unwarranted,”said Sean O’Keefe, Director of Environmental Affairs for Alexander & Baldwin (the parent company of HC&S) in a prepared statement.

Theater of the Absurd

It was truly an exercise in the theater of the absurd: citizens made pleas to an agency with no authority to regulate agricultural burning. Kerry Drake, a regional associate director for the EPA Region 9 told Maui Now point blank that the EPA does not regulate such activity unless ordered to do so by Congress.

He said the people concerned about open burning of cane should document their complaints and address them to Jill Stensrud at the State Department of Health, (808 ) 586-4200.

(Contacted this morning, Stenstrud, an environmental specialist for the Department of Health Clean Air Branch said that the right person to call was Blake Shiigi an employee on Maui at 984-8234. She declined to give her email address.)

Meanwhile, Back at the Meeting

wendy wiltse

Hearing Officer Wendy Wiltse said that there would be no responses from EPA officials. Susan Halas photo.

Taking it all in were 10 or more representatives of federal and state agencies from as far away as Denver who appeared in person for the sole purpose of listening to the input, as rules of the hearing explicitly prohibited any response by the officials.

They got a nice all-expense paid trip to the Valley Isle, courtesy of taxpayers.

EPA Hearing Officer Wendy Wiltse, who presided, stated that public officials were there to receive and record input and would make no comments.

More ironic still was that UH Maui College is one of the best equipped facilities for video conferencing and other technologies that allow people from many locations to communicate directly via television and computers.

Why it was necessary to trot these mute public servants out to the mid-Pacific when the same objective could have been easily accomplished by other means, at a fraction of the cost, is anyone’s guess.

Two Uniformed Police Officers on the Job

2 armed members mpd

Two officers from MPD were on hand. They declined to say what prompted their presence. Susan Halas photo.

Equally disturbing was the presence of two armed and uniformed Maui Police Department officers who declined to say who assigned them to the meeting or what public purpose their presence served.

Asked why they were there,  Lt. Wayne Ibarra, public information officer for the MPD later responded, “The United States Environmental Protection Agency requested to hire two off-duty officers for security purposes to monitor the attendees of their Regional Haze Hearing which was held on May 31, 2012 at the University of Hawaii, Maui College.

The special off-duty request was submitted through proper channels and approved by Chief Yabuta in accordance with our General Orders.  The officers were paid by requesting agency at the established special off-duty rates.”

Comments Accepted Until July 2, 2012

The rules regarding State of Hawaii Regional Haze Federal Implementation Plan were published in the Federal Register, Vol 77, No 103 on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 under the heading: Proposed Rules.

They begin on page 31,692 and run through page 31,718. They are accompanied by Index to Docket EPA R09-OAR-212-0345, which runs an additional five pages.

The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed plan until July 2, 2012. Comments should be identified as docket ID EPA-R09-OAR-212-0345.

Email written comments to [email protected]

about 50 attended

About 50 Mauians attended the EPA hearing, of these 20 signed up to testify. Susan Halas photo.

Comments can also be sent via US Mail to

Gregory Nudd (AIR-2)
US EPA, Region 9
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-3901

 

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