SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT TO CONDUCT BRIEFING ON ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL CONTROVERSY

Council has lost three members, deferred further work because of lack of support.

HONOLULU -September 29, 2009- Hawai‘i State Senator Mike Gabbard (West Oahu), chair of the Senate’s Committee on Energy and the Environment, will convene an information briefing to gather information on the operations of the state’s Environmental Council, which has lost three members to resignation since April, and recently announced that it would defer further work until it receives adequate support from the State Department of Health.

The briefing will be held on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 1:00 p.m., in State Capitol Room 016.

“The Environmental Council serves important statutory functions,” said Senator Gabbard. “I think we have a responsibility to find out how we have reached the point that a lack of support from the administration has caused council members to quit, and forced the council to defer all further action.”

By statute, the Environmental Council is attached to the State Department of Health for administrative purposes.

In April 2009, former Environmental Council chair Robert King resigned from the council, expressing his frustration over the lack of support offered by the Lingle administration. In May 2009, council members David Bylund and Wade Lord also resigned, citing similar reasons.

In August 2009, Gail Grabowsky, chair of the Environmental Council, informed Laurence Lau, Deputy Director of the State Department of Health, that all further meetings of the council and its standing committees would be postponed until “the conditions to conduct a successful Council meeting have been met.” In particular, Grabowsky’s letter cited inadequate meeting rooms, non-functioning video conferencing equipment (which had been intended to eliminate the cost of flying council members to meetings), insufficient staff support, and “extremely slow” appointments to fill vacancies on the council.

On September 8, 2009, Senator Gabbard sent a letter to Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Director of the Department of Health, expressing his concern over the challenges facing the Environmental Council. “I stand in complete support of the Environmental Council, its charge, and the services it provides to our community,” Gabbard said in the letter, “and share a commitment to seeing that it has the resources it requires to fulfill its mission.” He has not received a response from the Department of Health.

“My intention in sending that letter was to find out of how we reached this point,” Gabbard said. “We all know that the state is facing funding challenges, so how do we solve the problem? Where are the collaborative solutions that will let the Environmental Council achieve its very important objectives, at a price the state can afford to pay? The administration didn’t respond, so now it is time for us to go out and ask questions. And we will keep asking until we get answers.”

Those expected to testify at the briefing include Gail Grabowsky, chair of the Environmental Council, as well as representatives of the University of Hawai‘i William S. Richardson School of Law, Life of the Land, the Office of Environmental Quality Control, and the Hawai‘i State Department of Health. One or more of the council members who have resigned may also appear.

For more information online: VIEW BRIEFING

For more information, please contact Senator Gabbard's Office at 586-6830.