Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Governance: Preliminary Findings

Research Questions:
By law, the Office of Environmental Quality Control administers the environmental impact assessment process, the Environmental Council issues the rules, and the Environmental Center offers expertise from the University of Hawaii.
  1. What is your assessment of the OEQC’s current functioning and whether its effectiveness can be improved?
  2. What is your assessment of the Environmental Council’s current functioning and whether its effectiveness can be improved?
  3. What is your assessment of Environmental Center’s current functioning and whether its effectiveness can be improved?
Stakeholder Interview Comments
Stakeholders largely responded that the governance process needs improvement or change and better presence in the EIS community and public at large. Most stakeholders were only familiar with one or two of the three entities, but did offer some general comments about the overall arrangement and interplay of the three. All three entities lack funding, staff, and administrative support. OEQC should have more authority to make legally binding decisions. The Environmental Council is unable to fulfill its role of managing exemption lists due to the shortage of resources and support. The Environmental Center’s comments are useful, but it should play a larger role within the University and the environmental review process, given its legislated mandate. Finally, some suggested reorganizing, consolidating, or eliminating some or all of these three entities. In particular, many remarked that having OEQC or the Environmental Council in DOH is not suitable.

Suggestions for improving environmental review governance include:
  1. Increase resources and staffing, provide better guidance and training for all three organizations.
  2. Strengthen the legal powers of the three entities. OEQC should be able to review, reject inadequate documents, and declare exemptions that are legally binding. The Environmental Council should be able to make declaratory rulings, hear appeals, and oversee administrative actions. The Environmental Center should issue opinions to decision-makers, share expertise with the community, and perform 5-year reviews of the EIS system.
  3. Consolidate environmental review governance under OEQC so that the agency oversees the entire process. Make the Environmental Council like the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR).
Stakeholder Workshop Results
Session 1: Review of Results
The review of findings workshop results indicated participants primarily supported the increase of resources and staffing for all three entities. In addition, many participants supported creating a State Environmental Protection Agency to house them. Most agreed that OEQC lacks funding and staffing, but does the best it can. Besides increasing funding and staff, participants supported expanding/changing OEQC’s role in the process by expanding its legal authority or consolidating it with the Environmental Council. For the Environmental Council, many indicated that it does not currently fulfill its role, agreeing with the statement that the Council has been undermined in various ways. Besides the option of increasing staff and funding, some support was expressed for eliminating the Council or changing its role in some way. For the Environmental Center, participants recognized that it plays an important role in the environmental review process, but that its comments vary in quality at times. Of those supporting increasing its effectiveness, most were for increasing resources and training staff.
Other comments received during the review of findings include to expand DOH’s role to one similar to the EPA for reviewing EISs, to integrate projects more closely to planning to lessen the burden on these entities, and for OEQC to offer mediation/conflict resolution alternatives to lawsuits.

Session 2: Discussion Group and Report Back
In the discussion workshop, participants sought recommendations for all three entities. OEQC should be seen as a guardian of the 343 process. It should have a bigger budget and more staff, a stronger role in reviewing EISs, and develop more guidance such as for best practices. To offset the increased duties, require project proponents to pay a fee based on a sliding scale. Also, OEQC should be moved from the Department of Health. The Environmental Council should have the ability to issue declaratory orders, made explicit by inserting language into Chapter 343. The Environmental Center should continue its current activity, but receive more staff. The University should provide more staff and faculty participation through incentives or requirements. Also, allow more lead time for notifying professors to comment. Finally, the group suggested creating an environmental protection agency.

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