Bucking The Boss: Former State Environment Chief Clashed With Abercrombie

Hawaii Sierra Club

When you’re an appointee of the governor, it might be expected that you'd stick with the party line.

But not Gary Hooser, the former director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control and a staunch environmental advocate who repeatedly clashed with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and his environmental policies.

A week before leaving his post at the end of November, Hooser fired a parting shot at the Public Land Development Corporation, an agency focused on developing state lands through public-private partnerships that Abercrombie has worked hard to promote. Hooser's piece was titled, “PLDC creation was a slap in the face of the public and state Constitution.”

Abercrombie’s office was likely accustomed to Hooser’s renegade behavior by this point. Since taking over the environmental office in early 2011, Hooser had spoken out publicly against a number of Abercrombie's initiatives.

Hooser did take care to note that his remarks about the PLDC were his alone, and did not represent any official position. And he was technically on leave from his post at the time. In what some might call a well-timed exit, Hooser took unpaid leave from his state job in July to run for — and win a seat on — the Kauai County Council.

But Hooser is not the only Hawaii environmentalist who is disenchanted with Abercrombie.

His departure is symbolic of a larger rift between Abercrombie and the environmental community that has been growing since the governor took office two years ago. Many environmental groups supported Abercrombie's bid for governor, including the Hawaii Sierra Club, which publicly endorsed him.

But the governor's support for large development projects, exemptions from the environmental review process, and most recently, cuts to the state's solar tax credits, have rankled the conservation community.

Stuart Coleman, the Hawaii coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, said that his organization has been disappointed to find that Abercrombie is not aligned with with the group's philosophies after all.

"When he was first elected we were excited because we thought we were getting one of our own, someone who had a strong, progressive history and environmentally friendly policies as a congressman," said Coleman, "But slowly and gradually, we were a little dismayed by the number of decisions that he was making that didn't seem to have the environment in mind."

The governor's office didn't want to talk about Hooser. "Gary Hooser is no longer a member of this administration and we are not going to comment," Abercrombie spokeswoman, Louise Kim McCoy, said in a recent email.

But she takes exception to the broader notion that Abercrombie hasn't been a strong advocate for the environment. Kim McCoy stressed that the administration has partnered with an array of agencies to further conservation work.

She noted the governor's support of watershed protection, beach nourishment restoration projects, patrolling nearshore waters and fisheries on the neighbor islands and restoring Kawainui Marsh on Oahu. The administration also created a climate change adaptation policy for the state and has been a strong proponent of clean energy, she said.

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