Opposition imperils nomination of Wooley

Honolulu Star Advertiser - April 27, 2014
Derrick DePledge

State Rep. Jessica Wooley's nomination as director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control could get derailed after several senators objected to her confirmation.

Senate leaders agreed on Friday evening to delay a vote on Wooley's confirmation until Tuesday.

Sources said privately that Gov. Neil Abercrombie's office has been informed that Wooley's nomination might be at risk.

Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who opposes Wooley's confirmation, said there is enough concern that "may­be the governor should reconsider his appointment."

Nishihara, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Wooley, chairwoman of the House Agri­culture Committee, have collided often over the past two years on agricultural issues.

Nishihara, a moderate, is against labeling food with genetically modified organisms and in favor of right-to-farm protections for modern agriculture, including bio­technology. Wooley, a progressive, is a leader in the movement against GMOs.

But Nishihara said his objection to Wooley has nothing to do with the GMO debate.

"I know there'll be people who will say, ‘Well, Nishihara is out to get her because he's a pawn of biotech.' But it has nothing to do with that," he said.

Nishihara (D, Waipahu-Pearl City) said he and other senators who have worked closely with Wooley on legislation have doubts about her honesty and her ability to administer a state agency.

"We couldn't trust that she would be honest about what she was saying," he said.

Wooley's supporters are hoping the environmental community will reach out to senators over the next few days on her behalf. A source close to the Abercrombie administration said the governor's advisers would evaluate Wooley's chances on Monday before deciding how to proceed.

Nishihara and Wooley just completed often icy conference committee negotiations on agricultural bills, and some are hoping that any harsh feelings might subside.

Wooley had preferred that the Senate wait until the end of the session to take the confirmation vote so she could participate in conference negotiations, but sources say privately that it could now be her undoing.

The Senate Energy and Environment Committee voted unanimously this month to recommend Wooley's confirmation after no one testified against her. Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapo­lei-Makakilo), the committee's chairman, supports Wooley, and the Senate typically follows the guidance of committee chairmen on nominations.

Other senators also strongly back Wooley.

"I think very highly of Jessica Wooley and I intend to vote for her," said Sen. Josh Green (D, Naalehu-Kailua-Kona).

Wooley (D, Kahaluu-Ahuimanu-Kaneohe) could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

The office has responsibility over the state's environmental impact statement law. Abercrombie has had some difficulty in filling the director post.

Gary Hooser, Abercrombie's first director, left for a successful run for Kauai County Council in 2012. The former Kauai state senator often bristled by what he saw as the adminstration's attempts to rein in his environmental advocacy.

Abercrombie withdrew his nomination of Genevieve Salmonson as director last October after learning that she would not get confirmed.

Salmonson was the office director when the Lingle administration agreed to exempt $40 million in harbor improvements for Hawaii Superferry from environmental view.

Several Democrats have already shown interest in Wooley's House seat, including Robert Harris, director of Sierra Club Hawaii, and Kika Bukoski, executive director of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council.