When Native Hawaiian Legal Corp won a landmark case against A&B forcing A&B to return East Maui stream water, the decision was hailed as a step forward in reining in a missionary company whose environmentally damaging practices have continued for 140 years. A&B has traditionally controlled enough legislators to get away with anything. But finally, the Court called a halt on their exploitation of the environment and Hawaiians.
A&B induced legislators friendly to them, in particular, Joe Souki and Kyle Yamashita, to sponsor legislation to overrule the court decision on the “holdover” permits. DLNR invented the status “holdover” so that A&B could pull millions of gallons per day from East Maui for 13 years without doing the environmental assessment that is required by law. The court ruled that yes, this was a fiction and that DLNR couldn’t invent a special category of permit designed to excuse A&B from complying with the water rules.
A&B, through the Farm Bureau, then issued a highly misleading flyer to the legislature listing entities with “revocable” permits in an attempt to confuse legislators into thinking that HB2501 applied to other entities. But the fact is, that only A&B has “holdover” permits and this bill has no effect on anyone else. When some of the entities mentioned on the flyer were interviewed they not only didn’t know their names had been used but were highly incensed that they had been used to support a bill that they opposed.
Kahea had this to say:
The people of East Maui have long awaited the full return of water to their streams. Almost all of their water has been taken by Alexander & Baldwin Company, which has been diverting millions of gallons of water every day for decades primarily for its commercial sugar production. We know there is more than enough water to ensure diversified agriculture (including hemp) on Maui, for healthy streams and a vibrant taro-growing community. There is more water flowing through the streams of East Maui every day than is consumed on the entire island of O‘ahu. Now that A&B has announced its last sugar plantation will close by the end of 2016 and the courts have ruled the state improperly allowed A&B to continue diverting water from public land without permits, we expect the streams to flow again.
But the streams have not been fully restored. Despite ongoing litigation which has invalidated their water permits in addition to an incomplete contested case, A&B is using its billion-dollar political influence to aggressively pursue a bill in the state legislature to evade a court ruling against them. Proposed measure HB2501 would allow A&B to divert an unlimited amount of water indefinitely without environmental review or mitigation for the harm to East Maui residents who rely on that water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and growing taro.
To begin to restore the balance in our environment and justice in our community, A&B’s “water theft” bill (HB2501) cannot be adopted into law.
Sen Gabbard killed the senate version of the bill but the House passed HB2501, helped by Speaker Souki and an astonishing lack of critical thinking by the House members.
As the House bill crossed over to the Senate for another bite of the apple, A&B concentrated on convincing senators that overruling the court decision would help food production on Maui. Never mind that they intend to grow biofuel crops and perhaps lease a small amount of land to a cattle operation. Oh, and lease 1,000 acres to Mayor Arakawa to make sure he continues supporting them.
Additionally, A&B appears to have continued water diversions despite the court invalidating their permits.
Nonetheless, the senate explicitly removed A&B from HB2501 which left it legislating A&B’s cover story (e.g. nothing, since no one else had a holdover permit.) Apparently A&B and the Farm Bureau did such a good job getting the senator’s completely bamboozled that they now had a bill that was unnecessary but which they thought was protecting small water users with revocable permits – water users who had never asked for the bill but had only been used as cover for A&B’s special interest bill.
As was expected, the bill went to conference committee and A&B was put back into HB2501 making it once again, an illegal bill designed to help a single company. (A no-no in the Lege and the reason the State Supreme Court invalidated the Superferry Act 2)
Coincidentally, the day prior, A&B announced they would release water in the seven most contentious streams of East Maui. Legislators hailed this as a selfless act – without understanding A&B was only partially obeying the court order requiring cessation of water diversions. The Court voided A&B’s permit to divert this water. A&B’s PR is indeed masterful.
The most charitable interpretation of the conference committee’s action is that the legislators brokered a deal whereby A&B released the most contentious of water diversions in exchange for getting their special interest bill passed.
The less charitable interpretation is that many senators have taken quite a bit of money from A&B and know that A&B controls the Forward Progress Super PAC with its $10,000,000 donor PAC. Babes Against Biotech did the research:
As the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp said:
“Over one hundred years ago, shrewd and politically-savvy sugar barons acquired control of vast amounts of land and resources to exploit for their commercial enterprises. … Today, history repeats itself, as A&B has once again used its clout to entice certain Hawaii state legislators and agencies to defy — even collude to overturn — a court order declaring A&B’s East Maui diversion of any streams flowing across 33,000 acres of state ceded lands for its commercial enterprise to be illegal.”
But wait! There’s more!
The House under Speaker Souki, decided to protect A&B and HB2501 from further legal action by defunding the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. in the judicial supplemental funding bill, SB2102 . Yes. Speaker Souki’s House not only created a special interest bill undermining the court decision on water, but is also attempting make sure that the illegal bill won’t be challenged by defunding the public interest law firm which won the case in the first place.
Somehow we suspect this will not stop the plethora of environmental and Hawaiian organizations from challenging HB2501 as a special interest bill created for the benefit of a single company.