Latest Articles

  • Suit Alleging Massive Fraud Includes Hawaii Geothermal Plant

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Ormat Technologies Inc., the Nevada-based owner of the Big Island’s geothermal power plant, is trying to fend off a whistleblower lawsuit that could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties.

    The lawsuit, filed under seal in 2013, alleges that Ormat and its subsidiaries — including Puna Geothermal Ventures, which operates the Big Island plant — lied to the U.S. Department of Treasury to secure about $136 million in federal grants.

    Unsealed in 2014, the case has been making its way slowly through the courts without much public scrutiny. In March, Ormat’s attempt to have the case tossed on technical grounds was rebuffed by a federal judge in Nevada, and it now has until April 28 to respond to the allegations.

    The Puna Geothemal Ventures plant on the Big Island.

    Ormat Technologies Inc.

    The case focuses on federal assistance that Ormat received through the U.S. Treasury Department’s 1603 grant program, an initiative created under the so-called federal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, that provides cash payments to qualifying renewable energy projects.

    Two former Ormat employees who brought the lawsuit allege that the company “knowingly and purposefully exploited” the program to “perpetuate and sustain a financial fraud of unprecedented proportions.”

    “Ormat carried out this scheme by … submitting false or fraudulent grant applications, certifications of compliance, reports and claims to the federal government under 1603, thereby obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to which it was never entitled,” the plaintiffs’ complaint states.

    An Ormat

  • Could Hawaii Geothermal Plant Become a Windfall for Public?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    Last year, Tesla Motors, the maker of all-electric luxury sedans, revealed its plan to open a $5 billion battery factory, the world’s largest. The idea is to mass-produce the lithium-ion batteries it needs to reach its goal of making 500,000 electric cars a year by 2020.

    To make it work, the company has to find enough lithium, the lightest of all metals found on earth and the hidden power behind modern gadgets, like cellphones, laptops and a new generation of electric cars.

    The trouble is, there’s nowhere near enough battery-grade lithium currently being mined to meet the sudden demand, and it’s spurring a race to find new sources in the remotest corners of the world, from the wilds of northern Tibet to distant salt plains in South America.

    But the solution could come from an unlikely source: geothermal power plants, including the one operating on the Big Island.

    The Puna Geothermal plant on the Big Island.

    Courtesy of Puna Geothermal Venture

    An emerging technology is making it possible to extract lithium from the hot, mineral-rich brine that geothermal power plants pump out of the ground to generate energy. And the technology is not limited to extracting lithium — it can also recover a variety of other rare earth elements and valuable metals out of what is now being treated as wastewater.

    In the parlance of geothermal engineering, this is called “solution mining by nature,” and the potential profits to be made from it are immense — so much so that it

  • State Tracking Sustainability Progress Via New Online Dashboard

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii residents are spending more than three times as much on imported fuel than they were a decade ago, state data shows.

    But total fossil fuel use and emissions have come down during that same period.

    That’s just some of the info you can quickly glean from a new online dashboard that Gov. David Ige’s administration was touting Monday.

    Members of the Hawaii Green Growth partnership, including county mayors, the UH president and others, applaud the launch of a new online dashboard to track state sustainability goals, April 1.

    Office of the Governor

    You can also see that Hawaii is on track to reduce total fossil fuel use to below the 2008 level and increase total clean energy to 70 percent by 2030.

    Ige, the four county mayors, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, University of Hawaii and Hawaii Green Growth launched the Aloha+ Challenge dashboard last week. It features indicators for two of six targets — clean energy and solid waste reduction — that were set, according to a release from the governor’s office Monday.

    Indicators for the four remaining Aloha+ Challenge targets — local food, natural resource management, smart sustainable communities, and green workforce and education — are expected to be complete by 2017.

    “As a new initiative, we are spearheading a statewide Sustainable Transportation Committee to form partnerships and fund projects in support of clean energy and sustainable communities,” Ige said in the release.

    “I will continue to work closely with the mayors, OHA, state legislature, UH and other partners to make progress on the Aloha+ Challenge in the next

  • Blue Planet Foundation Blasts Hawaii PUC Ruling

    · By Nathan Eagle

    One of the top clean-energy nonprofits in Hawaii sharply criticized the state Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday over its much anticipated order on decoupling, which separates Hawaiian Electric’s revenues from its sales.

    Blue Planet Foundation, headed by Jeff Mikulina, said the commission failed to adopt proposals to tie the utility’s revenues to clean energy performance.

    The nonprofit also faulted the PUC’s rationale for not doing so, noting how the regulators’ decision says performance-based utility regulations are “impractical” at this time because the utility lacks a clear strategic plan and because the pending sale of Hawaiian Electric to NextEra Energy could have a major impact on the operation of the Hawaiian Electric companies.

    Hawaiian Electric’s Iwilei station.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “The tail is wagging the dog here,” Mikulina said in a release. “We shouldn’t use the lack of a utility strategic vision as a reason to protect the status quo. It should be the other way around.”

    He pointed at the fact that the decoupling review began long before Florida-based NextEra and Hawaiian Electric Industries announced their $4.3 billion merger deal and before Hawaiian Electric’s power supply improvement plans were released.

    Blue Planet also highlighted how the incentives currently in place within the decoupling mechanism haven’t yielded utility performance that customers demand.

    “The Commission had a perfect opportunity to shape the structure under which customers should expect the ‘new’ NextEra-owned utility to perform,” Mikulina said.

    “Instead, customers will be asked to accept a new utility operating under the old incentive system,” he said, noting the status-quo strategy of fossil fuels,

  • Hawaiian Electric CEO: We Will Continue to Pursue LNG

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaiian Electric Industries CEO Connie Lau made it clear during her closing speech Thursday at the Maui Energy Conference that the company will continue to pursue liquefied natural gas as a “bridge fuel.”

    Moments earlier she highlighted how “amazingly aligned” virtually everyone seems to be in terms of the end goal of getting off imported oil and transforming the energy landscape.

    Lau acknowledged that people may disagree over how Hawaii gets there — and the pace. A temporary shift to LNG is definitely one of the areas in which there’s disagreement, particularly over the necessary infrastructure costs and concerns over the “fracking” process that is used to produce some natural gas.

    Hawaiian Electric Industries Chairwoman and CEO Connie Lau speaks at the Maui Energy Conference, Thursday.

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

    Her remarks closed the conference with the same tone and focus that HECO President Alan Oshima and NextEra Energy Hawaii President Eric Gleason had opened it with the previous day. It was a message of hope, of improving customer relationship and assuaging fears over NextEra’s purchase of HECO.

    When she and NextEra CEO Jim Robo jointly announced their $4.3 billion deal in December, the expectation was that it would close within a year. But the new head of the Public Utilities Commission, Randy Iwase, has since said that the regulatory process will likely take 18 months.

    A critical player in that review is the state Division of Consumer Advocate, headed by Jeff Ono,

  • Geothermal Study Planned for Hualalai Volcano

    · By Chad Blair

    The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has this item on big geothermal plans on the Big Island. Excerpt:

    The search for geothermal energy under the dormant Hualalai volcano is moving forward.

    A University of Hawaii researcher has asked the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for a geothermal exploration permit to conduct a noninvasive geophysical study of the west rift zone of Hualalai, just north of Kailua-Kona.

    The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, researcher Nicole Lautze, with the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, said in her application. She did not return a phone message left at her office by press time Monday.

    The Land board is scheduled to consider the application Friday. The meeting is held in Honolulu and begins at 9 a.m. …

    Hawaii, as you may be aware, is overly dependent on imported fossil fuels for its energy needs.

     

    Volcanic emissions on the Big Island.

    Flickr

  • Care to Weigh in on the Deal Between NextEra and Hawaiian Electric?

    · By Chad Blair

    NextEra Energy and the three utilities that fall under Hawaiian Electric — Hawaiian Electric Company, Hawaii Electric Light Company and Maui Electric Company  — have announced a series of 13 open house informational meetings across the state next month.

    Why?

    “To introduce residents to NextEra Energy and the benefits of the companies’ pending merger as well as to provide members of the public with the opportunity to provide input directly to company officials,” according to a press release.

    The NextEra-HEI deal is a big deal, one that is pending before the Public Utilities Commission and one that has attracted lots of concerns.

    The companies are spinning the positive. (Indeed, their website is www.forhawaiisfuture.com.)

    The Hawaiian Electric building in downtown Honolulu.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “NextEra Energy shares Hawaiian Electric’s vision of increasing renewable energy, modernizing its grid, reducing Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, integrating more rooftop solar energy and, importantly, lowering customer bills,” Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii, said in a press release. “We recognize that addressing Hawaii’s energy challenges requires Hawaii-specific energy solutions, and that is why we look forward to meeting with and listening to residents across Hawaii.”

    Each meeting will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., where representatives from NextEra Energy and HEI will share their thoughts and listen to yours. The dates and locations are as follows:

    April 7

    Central Maui: Maui Electric Auditorium
    South Maui: Kihei Community Center

    April 8

    West Maui: Lahaina Civic Center
    Lanai: Lanai Community Center

    April 9

    Molokai: Kaunakakai Elementary School

  • Much-Touted Green Energy Program Falls Far Short of the Hype

    · By Patricia Tummons

    When the Hawaii Legislature passed Senate Bill 1087 in 2013, the bill was hailed as a way to democratize access to energy-saving technology, such as rooftop photovoltaic installations. Nearly two years later, as the program anticipated in the legislation is beginning to take shape, its scope is far more modest and bears little resemblance to the hype.

    “It is in the public interest to make cost-effective green infrastructure equipment options accessible and affordable to customers in an equitable way,” the bill stated.

    “A green infrastructure financing program administered by the state that capitalizes on existing ratepayer contributions for green infrastructure equipment can serve a critical role in ensuring all Hawaii electricity ratepayers receive the greatest opportunity for affordable and clean energy,” the legislators went on to say.

    Solar systems for low-income residents and renters were envisioned in the GEMS program through on-bill financing.

    Civil Beat

    The bill sailed through to passage, becoming Act 211 of the 2013 session. Testimony at the several committee hearings it received was almost universally laudatory. The only discouraging word came from Aaron S. Fujioka, then the administrator of the State Procurement Office. Every time the bill came up for a hearing, Fujioka urged legislators to delete the exemption from the state public procurement code that was carved out for the agency that is to administer the loan program at the heart of the system established by Act 211. (He was ignored.)

    Since then, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has received approval from the

  • Eight Industrial-Sized Solar Farms in the Works

    · By Sophie Cocke

    About 200,000 solar panels may soon cover about 160 open acres of land laced with kiawe trees and brush that stretch from the edges of Kamaile Academy to the base of the Waianae Mountains.

    The 27.6-megawatt project is one of eight large solar farms planned for Oahu that are expected to break ground by the end of the year in order to take advantage of lucrative federal tax credits. Hawaiian Electric Co. announced that it had signed agreements to purchase the energy by December and the applications are currently awaiting approval by the Public Utilities Commission.

    The PUC is expected to rule on each project separately. 

    Looking mauka of Ala Akau Street in Waianae, the site of Eurus’ proposed solar farm.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    If the projects move forward, their total area will span a total of about 1,400 acres, the size of 25 Ala Moana shopping centers, according to a review of applications filed with the PUC. The bulk of the solar panels will dot agricultural fields throughout central Oahu and along the North Shore, in addition to two projects planned for Waianae.

    At peak production, during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest, the panels are expected to supply more than one-eighth of Oahu’s electricity needs, according to HECO.

    Some Community Opposition

    While the projects will help the state meet its goals of developing more sources of local renewable energy and weaning Hawaii of of its dependence on foreign oil,

  • Big Island Electric Co-op Seeks to Intervene in NextEra Sale

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Big Island business and community leaders have formed a nonprofit coop called the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative to explore taking over Hawaii Electric Light Co., a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Co.

    The co-op would be owned by ratepayers, similar to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. However, the co-op is interested all of the island’s energy sectors not just the electric grid.

    The co-op association emerged in recent weeks with the announcement that Florida-based NextEra Energy has entered into an agreement to purchase HECO — a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. Last week, the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative submitted an application to Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, which must approve the sale, to intervene in the review of the merger.

    HELCO power plant

    Cory

    The Big Island co-op, in seeking to intervene in proceedings, is not taking a position for or against the sale, according to a press release issued by the co-op on Tuesday

    “We seek to participate in the discussion of the unique perspective of the residents of our island, and if appropriate, explore an option that would make for a fundamental change in the landscape of energy production and consumption on Hawaii Island,” HIEC director  Marco Mangelsdorf said in the press release.  “Being able to have more direct control over Hawaii Island’s present and future energy profile would provide us with an extraordinary opportunity to showcase what can be done on our island on many different and innovative levels.”

     Mangelsdorf is also the president of

  • Are Hawaiian Electric and NextEra Energy ‘Getting Married?’

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Some pills are easier to swallow with a spoonful of euphemistic language.

    Such is the case in the proposed sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

    Company officials have carefully crafted their public messages to make the $4.3 billion deal go down easier in Hawaii, where residents can be quite sensitive to losing control of anything to the mainland, a lingering hangover from the United States overthrowing the kingdom in 1893.

    Jim Robo, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, gives Connie Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, a kiss before speaking at a press conference announcing their proposed merger Dec. 3.

    Cory Lum / Civil Beat

    They are framing the transaction as a “partnership” between the two companies that will benefit everyone — shareholders, ratepayers, even the environment.

    That may all hold true, considering the vast resources NextEra brings to the table. But the parties are not exactly being forthright by calling the deal a “partnership” or “combination” as they have in full-page newspaper ads, press conferences and letters to hundreds of thousands of customers.

    After all, when a sale is completed, the buyer is the owner.

    During a press conference announcing the deal Dec. 3, HEI President and CEO Connie Lau and NextEra Chairman and CEO Jim Robo were asked how the media should describe the transaction.

    Lau likened it to a “marriage and dating.” Robo called it “a combination of Hawaiian Electric with NextEra.”

  • Harris: Hawaii Electric Rates Are Up 50 Percent Since 2009

    · By Manjari Fergusson

    Electricity rates have been rising in Hawaii over the last five years, adding to the high cost of living.

  • Going Off the Grid and the Solar Industry’s Holy Grail

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Technological advances could spur more people in Hawaii to abandon HECO.

  • Hawaii Regulators Stop Plans for Lanai Wind Farm, Undersea Cable

    · By Sophie Cocke

    The PUC takes actions that could dramatically change how HECO moves forward with renewable energy plans.

  • HECO Says Residents With Solar Aren’t Paying Their Fair Share of Costs

    · By Sophie Cocke

    Utility says it’s discussion needed on boosting costs for homeowners and businesses with solar panels.

The Beat

  • Honolulu’s Homeless Population On The Rise

    ·By Nick Grube
    Honolulu’s homeless population continues to rise despite the high-profile efforts of city and state officials to put more people into housing. According to the latest “Point-In-Time” count required by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were a total of 4,903 homeless people living on Oahu in late January when the annual survey was conducted. That’s an increase of 191 individuals from the year before when officials and service providers counted 4,712 people living on the streets or in shelters. Since 2009, Oahu has seen its homeless population increase 35 percent from 3,638 to 4,903. The data also shows fewer people living in some form of shelter in 2015 than in previous years. In fact, Oahu’s unsheltered population grew from 1,633 in 2014 to 1,939 in 2015 while its sheltered population decreased from 3,079 in 2014 to 2,964. What makes this a somewhat surprising revelation is all the effort put forth by city and state officials, namely Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, to get people off the streets following a Housing First model that has been found to be effective in other parts of the country. You can read the full “Point-In-Time” count here: Oahu 2015 PIT report from Civil Beat
    Read more
  • DOE Wants Input on New School Calendar

    ·By Jessica Terrell
    Have an opinion about when public school classes should start and end each year? The Department of Education is collecting survey responses until Wednesday for a new school calendar starting in the 2016-17 school year. One of the choices under consideration is aligning classes more closely with mainland schools by having students start Aug. 22 and finish by June 15. The DOE convened a working group to study the issue this year, with an emphasis on balancing the number of days in each quarter, and finishing the first semester before students go on winter break. Creating a school schedule that kept kids out of class during the hottest days of the year wasn’t feasible, according to the DOE, because some of the hottest days of the year are in September and October. Read more from the DOE here or go straight to the survey here.
    Read more
  • Hirono Objects to New Freedom of Information Act Exemption

    ·By Chad Blair
    Politico reports that cybersecurity legislation in the U.S. Congress “could create the first brand-new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act in nearly half a century — a prospect that alarms transparency advocates and some lawmakers.” The language contained in the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act has upset U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who wrote a statement accompanying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the cyber bill. The new exemption would would cover “information shared with or provided to” the federal government. “We are unconvinced that it is necessary to create an entirely new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA,” the senators argue. “Government transparency is critical in order for citizens to hold their elected officials and bureaucrats accountable; however, the bill’s inclusion of a new FOIA exemption is overbroad and unnecessary as the types of information shared with the government through this bill would already be exempt from unnecessary public release under current FOIA exemptions.” The U.S. Supreme Court Building. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The FOIA law allows the public — and journalists — access to information held by government agencies, information that often leads to significant discoveries about what exactly our government does. Hirono and Heinrich, who are members of the Intelligence Committee, say that FOIA exemptions should be made only after stakeholders can weigh in through a public meeting process. As Politico explains, “Another provision in the legislation would require that ‘cyber threat indicators and defensive measures’ which companies or individuals share with the federal government be ‘withheld,
    Read more
  • 24 Maps and Charts That Explain Marijuana on 4/20

    ·By Chad Blair
    In honor of April 20 — or 4/20, to those in the know — there is a lot of pakalolo-related content floating around the Internet. That includes our new Civil Beat Poll on how we feel about medical marijuana dispensaries (good) and legalizing the bud (not good). After you’ve read that story, take a gander at this story titled 24 maps and charts that explain marijuana. The Economist “People have been growing and using marijuana for thousands of years,” Vox reports. “Ancient texts praised the plant for its versatility — it was used for its psychoactive and medical effects and to make clothes and paper. But in 1934, the US effectively banned the plant with strict taxes and regulations — a prohibition that, despite some major changes to the regulatory model, remains to this day.” Of course, things are beginning to turn: “public support for marijuana legalization in the US is at an all-time high. And in 2014, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, approved legalization.”  
    Read more
  • Hawaii Congresswoman Taking the 7-Day ‘VegPledge’

    ·By Chad Blair
    Today is the beginning of US VegWeek, when folks are encouraged “to explore the many benefits of vegetarian eating by taking the 7-Day VegPledge.” “Be healthy, save the environment, protect farmed animals, and eat a ton of tasty food!” says a press release. Tulsi Gabbard, the U.S. representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, is among those taking the pledge. “As a lifelong vegetarian, I am proud to support US VegWeek and encourage others to take the 7-Day VegPledge,” says Gabbard in a press releases from VegWeek. “Centering your diet around plant-based foods also has a positive impact on our environment and improving public health.” Others touting the benefits of meat-free meals include former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Ellen DeGeneres. I’m encouraging my followers to take the 7day #VegPledge. Take part for your health & a positive environmental impact pic.twitter.com/45LVG29eso — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) April 19, 2015
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  • Maui Police Testing Body Cameras in the Field

    ·By Chad Blair
    Ten Maui police officers are using body cameras in the field, The Maui News reports, recording interactions with the public while responding to emergency calls. The pilot project, which started April 6 and runs until May 5, involves officers in Wailuku, Kihei and Lahaina. So far, Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu says he sees “more positive than negative” if the Maui Police Department were to implement a camera program. PF Bentley/Civil Beat Meanwhile, at the Hawaii Legislature, a bill funding grants-in-aid to the counties to purchase body-worn cameras for cops has stalled. But another measure relating to cameras that Civil Beat has also reported on remains alive. The bill calls for grant-in-aid to the City and County of Honolulu to purchase body cameras for cops and to set up a Honolulu Police Department Body Camera Pilot Program. Differences on the House and Senate versions must be worked out in conference committee, the two-week period that begins Monday at the Capitol. Read Civil Beat’s editorial, Cop Body Cams: A No-Brainer for Hawaii.
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  • Senate Panel Approves of Suzanne Case for Land Board

    ·By Chad Blair
    Suzanne Case was approved by a 7-0 vote from the Senate Water and Land committee Friday to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The “aye” votes included the committee’s chair, former DLNR Chair Laura Thielen, and two members who voted against Bill Balfour’s nomination to the Commission on Water Resource Management, Gil Riviere and Russell Ruderman. That vote was also held Friday. Gov. David Ige and DLNR nominee Suzanne Case. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Case, who is known for her leadership of The Nature Conservancy, still awaits a full Senate vote, perhaps as early as next week. But the outcome seems far more certain than that of Gov. David Ige’s first nominee to lead the DLNR, Carleton Ching. Learning he did not have the necessary support, the governor withdrew the nomination last month just moments before the Senate was to vote on Ching. Unlike Ching, a lobbyist for Castle & Cooke, Case carries no development-interest baggage. Those testifying in support of Case were the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Trust for Public Land, The Outdoor Circle, the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and the Surfrider Foundation. Those in opposition were far fewer in number and included Animal Rights Hawaii, the Hawaii Hunting Association and the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition.  
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  • TV Show Profiles Haleakala, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

    ·By Chad Blair
    A certain Big Island mountain with telescopes has attracted a whole lot of attention over the past few weeks. Go to our homepage and type “Mauna Kea” or “TMT” into the search window for a refresher. Meanwhile, the other Hawaii mountain with telescopes — Haleakala on Maui — will be featured in the CW channel‘s “Rock the Park” series Saturday. It’s the premiere of “Haleakala: In the House of the Sun.” On April 25, the program will premiere “Hawaii Volcanoes: Trekking Mauna Loa,” the sister mountain to Mauna Kea. Jack and Colton prepare to bike down the side of the world’s largest dormant volcano at Haleakala National Park. Tremendous! Entertainment In the 30-minute show, hosts Jack Steward and Colton Smith take viewers “on an adventure to the country’s most popular national parks, coming face to face with nature and some of the most awe-inspiring places on earth.” The premiere of the Hawaii episodes coincides with National Park Week, America’s “largest celebration of national heritage,” April 18-26. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which is contracted by the state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority and paid for through the hotel tax, assisted with the production.
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  • Hirono: Bill Will ‘Strengthen, Improve’ Social Security

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and U.S. Rep Ted Deutch (FL-21) this week introduced the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act, a measure they believe “strengthens Social Security for generations to come and improves benefits for all Americans by restoring fairness to Social Security contributions.” According to Hirono’s office, most Americans contribute 6.2 percent of every paycheck they earn to Social Security “while a corporate lawyer earning $400,000 pays an annual rate of just 1.71 percent and a CEO earning $2 million pays an annual rate of just .003 percent.” The act would make top earners pay the same rate as most Americans. It also also “restores accuracy to a broken cost-of-living adjustment formula and ensures that the benefits of all retirees keep pace, instead of shrink, in the face of inflation,” says a press release. Senator Mazie Hirono in her D.C. office. Cory Lum/Civil Beat “Social Security is one of the cornerstones for the middle class, and literally a lifeline for millions of seniors,” Hirono said in a statement. “But right now, those at the very top of the income ladder pay a lower share of their income into Social Security than the rest of Americans.” Many Republicans have different view on what to do regarding Social Security. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, this week proposed raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for some seniors. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Christie’s plan was not a good one, however. Both men are potential candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, along with several
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  • Congressional Democrats Divided Over Fast-Tracking Trade

    ·By Chad Blair
    Leaders in the U.S. Congress said Thursday they have reached a deal on legislation that, if approved, “would speed consideration of President Obama’s trade agenda.” As The Hill reports, “The fast-track legislation, formally known as trade promotion authority, would make it easier for the administration to negotiate trade deals by preventing Congress from amending them.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership  — known as TPP — would be the biggest trade deal for America since NAFTA with Mexico and Canada back in the 1990s. The TPP would apply to 11 Latin American and Asian countries. Congressman Mark Takai. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Obama, a Democrat, is in the unusual position of favoring the act along with the many Republicans who control Congress. The Hill, however, points out that Democrats are divided over the deal. Mark Takai of Hawaii, meanwhile, doesn’t like the fast-track authority component of the TPP deal. “Implementation of the same old fast track authority will severely limit Congress’ role in trade negotiations and puts millions of good-paying American jobs at risk,” the representative of the 1st Congressional District said in a statement following the news of the deal. “The U.S. economy does not need free trade, we need fair trade.” Takai said that a recent trip to Asian made “crystal clear” his opposition to TPA (it stands for Trade Promotion Authority), which is the fast-track component of the TPP. The TPA also applies to other trade agreements.
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  • Memorial Planned to Mark 70 Years Since Ernie Pyle’s Death

    ·By Chad Blair
    It was 70 years ago Saturday that Ernie Pyle was felled by a Japanese bullet in the South Pacific. He was 44 years old,a Pulitzer Prize-winner and perhaps the best-known American journalist of World War II. To mark the occasion, a ceremony is planned at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, better known as Punchbowl. A band will strike up the music at 9:45 a.m., followed by a program that will include the playing of “Taps,” a memorial address and a eulogy. The sponsors include the Hawaii Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, of which I am a member. Visit the Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation for more information. Ernie Pyle.
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  • Now You Can Watch HART Meetings In Your Pajamas

    ·By Nick Grube
    Talk about results. Last month, Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa pushed a resolution to boost transparency for the city’s $6 billion rail project. Specifically, he called on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to broadcast it’s board meetings online or through public access stations. HART will join other government agencies in broadcasting its meetings through Olelo Community Media. Chad Blair/Civil Beat On Thursday, the city announced Olelo Community Media will begin airing HART meetings starting next week. This should make it easier for citizens to track decisions made by HART board members on a highly controversial project that faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall. In a press release, Ozawa said televising HART meetings “is a crucial first step in providing real transparency to this project.”
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  • Watch Mauna Kea Board of Regents Hearing Live

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    “Science and money do not supersede the sanctity of our mountain.” That’s one of many statements made by numerous testifiers at the University of Hawaii Board of Regents meeting on Thursday that deals with the controversial planned Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. As of nearly 3 p.m., the meeting in Hilo is still ongoing and can be watched live here on Oiwi TV. Click here to read related Civil Beat articles and community voices. Big Island resident Kalae Kauwe is draped in Hawaiian flags as hula halau dance near the Mauna Kea visitors center. Cory Lum/Civil Beat
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  • Hey, Everybody! It’s Fair Housing Awareness Month!

    ·By Chad Blair
    Did you know that April 2015 marks the 47th anniversary of the enactment of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act? Or that the act expanded civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination in the “sale, rental and financing” of housing based on race, color, religion, national origin and sex? Me neither. But Gov. David Ige does. 665 Halekauwila in Kakaako . PF Bentley/Civil Beat That’s why he has officially proclaimed that this month is Fair Housing Awareness Month. Here’s a couple “whereases” from the proclamation for you to ponder: WHEREAS, housing discrimination is inconsistent with the values of equal opportunity and fairness which we cherish and aspire to as citizens of the United States of America and of the State of Hawaii; WHEREAS, the Fair Housing Act has since been expanded to protect discrimination on the basis of disability and familial status; WHEREAS, Chapter 515, Hawaii Revised Statutes, which is the state equivalent to the Fair Housing Act, was expanded in 2005 to prohibit discriminatory practices on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Hawaii’s governor is encouraging folks to attend free fair housing education seminars offered in each county, and to join with state and county officials in working to eliminate discrimination in housing by increasing public awareness of our laws in that regard. Now, if only Da Gov can do something about the rent. Too damn high.
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  • Survey: More People in Hawaii Driving Alone to Work

    ·By Chad Blair
    A new analysis from the state may help explain while traffic is so awful in Hawaii. The number of commuters driving alone increased 74.2 percent from 1980 to the 2009-2013 period. Put another way, that’s a jump of 253,680 commuters from 30 years ago to 441,988 in recent years. All told, when it comes to going to work, the share of those who drive alone has gone from 55.3 percent to 66.6 percent over the past 30-plus years. “This is a remarkable increase compared to the 41 percent increase in total Hawaii population and 51 percent increase in population aged 16 and over during the 30 year period,” says the Research and Economic Division in DBEDT, which released the “Commuting Patterns in Hawaii” on Thursday. Meanwhile, the share of workers who carpool has dropped by about 10 percent while the percentage of us who catch the bus, bike or walk hasn’t budged much over the past three decades. One positive indicator: More of us are working from home, probably helped by the revolution in telecommunications. The DEBDT report crunched other interesting commuting data, including by county, gender, earnings and Oahu neighborhoods. For example, the more money you make, the more likely you drive your own car to work. But you probably already knew that.
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  • US House Votes to Repeal the Estate Tax

    ·By Chad Blair
    In a 240-179 vote that broke down pretty much along party lines, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the estate tax Thursday. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai — Hawaii Democrats — voted against the Republican-backed measure in the GOP-controlled chamber. Many Republicans think that the estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” is effectively double taxation. Ben Franklins. Flickr Many Democrats think that the repeal would primarily benefit rich people that don’t need a tax break. The Hill reports that Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate probably do not have the 60 votes necessary to halt a Democratic filibuster. The White House has also indicated it would veto the bill.
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  • Hawaii Auditor Releases Its Biggest Annual Report Yet

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    2014 was a busy year for the Hawaii State Auditor’s office and with that comes its largest annual report ever. Acting State Auditor Jan Yamane says the 72-page report, published online Wednesday, recaps the 18 audits, analyses and studies the office did on everything from alternate uses of recycled glass to the regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. The report also details all the follow-up work the office does on past audits, checking in on agencies to see if they’re actually implementing the auditor’s recommendations. Read the full report, which also discusses the Mauna Kea audit and Superferry, below.
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  • Public Asked For Input on Embattled HPD

    ·By Nick Grube
    Every three years the Honolulu Police Department seeks reaccreditation from a private, nonprofit to ensure it meets national law enforcement standards. But several citizens who spoke out at a public meeting at HPD headquarters Tuesday told the officials evaluating the department that they should think twice due to a series of missteps by officers. Check out KITV’s take on the meeting here for a full report. The Honolulu Police Department is up for reaccreditation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat It’s been a tumultuous year for HPD, one that involved ridicule, embarrassment and federal investigations. RelatedHawaii Lawmakers Grill Honolulu Police Chief on Domestic ViolenceSep 30Want To Be A Cop in Hawaii? No License NeededMar 12 Even Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha is under the microscope for his part in a mailbox theft case in which a federal public defender accused him and his wife of framing the suspect. But whether the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA)  takes any of this into account remains to be seen. The private, nonprofit group is still taking public comment on HPD. Those comments can be sent to 13575 Heathcote Boulevard, Suite 320, Gainesville,Virginia, 20155 or submitted at www.calea.org.
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  • Obama Asked to Declare State of Emergency in Micronesia

    ·By Chad Blair
    Radio New Zealand reports that the government of the Federated States of Micronesia is appealing to President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency in the country following the devastation of Typhoon Maysak earlier this month. The declaration would allow federal resources to be delivered into the country under its Compact of Free Association agreement with the United States. The FSM states of Chuuk and Yap were hit hard by the super-storm. Meanwhile, the Pacific Daily News in Guam reports that the island’s first container of supplies for those affected by Typhoon Maysak arrived in Chuuk on Tuesday. Damage caused by Typhoon Maysak in Ulithi, Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. Brad Holland/FSM Office of Environment and Emergency Management
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  • Takai Bill Would Increase COFA Migrant Fund to $185M

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. Rep. Takai sent out emails Wednesday reflecting on his first 100 days in Congress — and asking for campaign contributions as well, which is a never-ending task for our elected officials in D.C. One of the things the newbie congressman did during his short time in Washington — something that did not get much notice back home — was to introduce a bill that would help Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Marianas address growing populations of Micronesians. The Compact-Impact Aid Act of 2015, introduced in February and referred to a House committee last month, would increase annual funding for regional migrant costs from $30 million to $185 million. The bill is co-sponsored U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo and Northern Marianas Delegate Gregorio Sablan. As Guam’s Pacific Daily News reported, “Guam and Hawaii are seeing some of the largest influxes of migrants under Compact of Free Association agreements between their island nations and the U.S. government.” Takai’s bill states, “By placing demands on local governments for health, educational, and other social services, migration under the Compact has adversely affected the budgetary resources of several states and territories.” The challenge for Takai is getting the spending measure through a Congress controlled by Republicans, many of them loath to increase spending. But, as the bill points out, “Congress declared that if any adverse consequences to States, territories, and other jurisdictions of the United States resulted from implementation of the Compact of Free Association, Congress would act sympathetically and expeditiously to redress those adverse consequences.”
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