Candidates spar on environment
By James Gonser
Advertiser Staff Writer
Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono presented her plan to reduce Hawai'i's oil dependency and Republican nominee Linda Lingle said her published plans for the state show her strong concern for the environment during the third forum between the gubernatorial hopefuls at the University of Hawai'i yesterday.
UH law school assistant professor Denise Antolini and Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat moderated the event.
Lingle said her booklet, "A New Beginning for Hawai'i," spells out her plans and asks people to look at environmental protection as a collaboration between the economy and the environment by supporting tourism and agriculture while preserving the natural beauty and environment of the state.
Hirono said she has been a longtime supporter of environmental efforts and if elected would submit legislation to create a solar energy revenue bond similar to the San Francisco initiative "to wean ourselves from imported oil."
Hirono said with oil now supplying about 90 percent of the state's energy needs, the revenue bond would be used to retrofit public buildings for solar energy. The bonds would be repaid with money saved by using less oil, so the project would create clean energy without raising taxes, she said.
San Francisco residents last year approved a $100 million bond for the technology and that city is refitting major public buildings.
The candidates disagreed on the value of the "bottle bill" passed by the Legislature this year. The bill is the first beverage container deposit bill to be passed in a state since 1986. In 2005, residents will pay a little more for a soft drink or bottle of water, but will get 5 cents back when they turn in the container, whether it's glass, plastic or metal.
"The bottle bill is a nothing," Lingle said. "It is a non-beginning. It doesn't go into effect until 2005. Not one bottle or can will be collected. We need to start right now."
Lingle said the bill will keep out only 1.6 percent of the material from landfills. "It is too little, too late. We need to get serious about reducing the dependence on landfills and reducing the amount of litter in our community."
Lingle's plan includes creating a market for recyclable products, including bottles and cans, by using tax or market incentives.
"Without markets, recycling is just separating garbage," Lingle said.
Hirono said the bottle bill is important and was the result of a hard-fought, grassroots effort.
"I know from helping to clean up places like Magic Island that a lot of these containers end up in our environment," Hirono said. "It is so important that we implement this bottle bill."
Hirono said an alternative plan that advocates curbside recycling would cost the counties an estimated $200 million and amounts to a tax on rubbish collection.
Responding to a question, the candidates also differed on the need for the state Commission on Water Resource Management, Lingle saying water issues should be decided at the local level rather than by a state board and Hirono saying water is a public trust and a statewide issue. The commission members gather local input before making any decisions, Hirono said.
Both candidates promoted better maintenance for state parks and trails, and both said they would appoint environmentalists to important boards and commissions dealing with land, water and natural resources.
Both women also support the rights of Native Hawaiians to have access to beaches and public lands for gathering and other traditional uses now protected by the state constitution.
After the debate, UH English student Sabrina Favors was not fully satisfied with what she had heard, saying the candidates gave only partial answers to questions and then quickly moved on to issues they wanted to discuss and to criticism of each other.
Sierra Club director Jeff Mikulina said the university was the best place for the debate on environmental issues because it directly affects the students' futures.
"We were encouraged to see a standing-room-only crowd," Mikulina said.
Transcripts from the forum will be posted on the Sierra Club's Web site at www.hi.sierraclub.org within a few days, he said.
Reach James Gonser at email@example.com or 535-2431.