In advance of the official start of the environmental Court on July 1, there will be a daylong symposium at the UH Law School in late June to bring lawyers and judges up-to-date on the law.
There will be speakers from India, which has a strong Environmental Court system.
As background, last year the legislature passed a bill—championed by The Outdoor Circle and its partners—that seeks to improve the efficiency of Hawaii’s court system and encourage more effective enforcement of existing environmental statutes.
The Environmental Court will hear cases related to certain public health and environmental laws on single court dockets or calendar. In each jurisdiction, these cases will be heard at the same time, by the same judge, instead of intermingled with other felony and misdemeanor cases.
“This strong move towards improved environmental protections indicates that our leaders value the important role that our unique environment plays in our economic stability,” said Alexandra Avery, president of the Outdoor Circle. She added, “Environmental Courts have been successful in other communities where a sensitive environment is key to the wealth and health of its residents.
While Hawaii is well known for its natural environment, state enforcement of environmental laws has been uneven. Chronic illegal dumping, improper harvesting of natural resources and contamination of streams and near-shore waters are common experiences in the Hawaiian islands. Establishment of the Environmental Court signals Hawaii’s renewed commitment and focus on protecting the environment.
President's Message February 2015
Our volunteer force and The Outdoor Circle staff thank-you for your membership and continued support of our mission, now 104 years old, to help keep Hawai'i clean, green and beautiful. It has never been more important to support sensible and sustainable Land Use policies, which are at risk of erosion.
Thanks to our capable Executive Director Marti Townsend and our Public Affairs Chair Rep. Barbara Marumoto, we have a legislative agenda that she, our interns and our Public Affairs Committee volunteers will follow. It is good to be on the lookout for our Legislative Session E-Alerts so you can learn about how policy is made and changed and have a hand in providing testimony on issues important to you
Marti and I attended the 2015 Keep America Beautiful Awards and national Conference in January. Though we arrived in 7 degree temperatures, we had a fabulous time representing The Outdoor Circle and Hawai'i in receiving a Community Service Award. KAB noted that Hawai'i is just the second state to vote in an Environmental Court (Vermont is the other) and that we are a vanguard to inspire other states to follow in suit.
While in DC, we had the opportunity to share The Outdoor Circle concerns with Rep. Mark Takai, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Brian Schatz, whose office took us on a special tour of the capitol.
There is a lot of work to get done this Legislative session, and we would love your help in putting your money where our mouth is. We promise to do our very best to protect the good policies and help change the defective ones.
Our Top 12 in 2014
As 2014 begins to wind down, we are reflecting on a very successful year for The Outdoor Circle. Please help us celebrate!
From new laws to improve the protection of our environment to on-going beautification projects that improve our communities, we have been hard at work keeping Hawai‘i clean, green, and beautiful. Your donation today will help continue this work for tomorrow.
Here are the top 12 things we are grateful for from this past year.
There is still time to get your donation in and receive a tax deduction for 2014. You can mail your donation check to our office in Honolulu (1314 S. King St. #306 Honolulu, HI 96814) or just click here for a secure and immediate credit card transaction. Your donation benefits the work of The Outdoor Circle and our branches throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
Thank you and happy holidays!
Lawyers get a lesson in new Eco Court
Hawai‘i’s new Environmental Court was a featured topic at the State Bar Association’s annual convention of attorneys last month. Justice Michael Wilson of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court and Judge Merideth Wright of the Vermont Environmental Court helped lawyers better understand how this new court will work to improve enforcement of environmental laws.
The Outdoor Circle, along with Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful and many others, worked hard to get Act 218, SLH 2014 passed into law last session. Establishing an Environmental Court in Hawai‘i was one of TOC’s main priorities identified by members at the 2013 Full Circle Meeting.
To learn more about the Environment Court in Hawai‘i, click here to read our previous posts on the topic.
SB 632 is now Act 218, SLH 2014!
We celebrated this great victory for the environment with a luncheon at HASR Bistro in Honolulu. See all the pictures from the great event here.
We owe a very special thanks to our heroes:
Committee Chairs Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Mike Gabbard, as well as advocates Jan Dapitan, Alice Greenwood, DOCARE Chief Randy Awo and Dean Denise Antolini. It is because of your leadership, determination, and willingness to work together that this bill became law after so many years of effort.
We also want to give a shout out to the many groups that helped this bill along the way, including: Keep Hawaiian Islands Beautiful, Get the Drift and Bag It, Kua‘aina Ulu ‘Auamao, Nani O Wai‘anae, Conservation International, Department of Land and Natural Resources, and students at the William S. Richardson School of Law's Environmental Law Program.
To learn more about the Environmental Court in Hawaii, click here.
SB 632 just passed both the Hawaii Senate and House. This is huge. Below is the statement we made to the press. Thank you to everyone who supported this bill along the way -- and a special thank you to Jan Dapitan on Maui and Chris Woolaway on O`ahu for their long-standing commitment to getting this bill passed.
Stay tuned for more updates as we work to ensure this bill passes the Governor's desk and further support the actual implementation of the new Environmental Courts in Hawai‘i.
Eco Court: Final Vote, Show Your Support
By Marti Townsend, Executive Director
Hawai‘i's State House and Senate are meeting to cast the final vote on SB632 -- the bill to create an environmental court in Hawai‘i. Thanks to the support of so many, this bill is very close to passing. Your support will help push this bill to become a law!
Click the links below to email elected officials in support SB632:
• Email all Senators (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• Email all Representatives (email@example.com)
• Click here to see a list of all elected officials, their phone numbers, emails, and districts.
(Talking points on the bill are at the bottom on this post)
An environmental court in Hawai‘i will ensure that cases related to protection of our natural environment and public health will be efficiently and effectively adjudicated. SB632 provides that all cases related to statutes protecting public health and the environment are heard on the same court calendar. This alleviates the challenge of managing court dockets (and resources) between cases related to the environment and other cases, like violations against private property or people. Establishing a specific docket for environmental cases allows judges in this court to give proper attention to these cases, while developing their own expertise in this area of law.
This also sends a strong message to agency enforcement staff -- and the public -- that violations of environmental protections are taken very seriously in Hawai‘i. In the past, we have seen too often environmental cases dismissed early, when cases for other felonies or misdemeanors are continued and resolved.
It is true that Hawai‘i's court system has been particularly good at addressing procedural issues related to actions that might damage the environment -- the Superferry, H-3, and Waiahole water decisions immediately come to mind as examples of the courts acting to protect the environment. However, when dealing with day-to-day infractions of environmental protections -- think of catching undersized fish, releasing chlorinated pool water into storm drains, improper disposal of unwanted household or construction material -- our system of enforcement is sorely lacking. Illegal dumps along the road-side, undersized and out-of-season fish for sale at markets, pollution in our streams and nearshore waters are all testament to the failure of our system to enforcement the laws that are meant to protect us and our environment.
Some agencies are improving their enforcement procedures. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has enacted a new criminal violation system that better trains and empowers their officers and streamlines the agency-level decision making process for tickets issued for violations. This effort needs to be adopted by other state and county agencies. At the same time, our court system needs to complement the agency-level effort by ensuring that environmental cases brought to court are given the same strenuous review as other felonies and misdemeanors. Having all cases related to these kinds of environmental infractions heard at the same time, as opposed to intermingled with other cases, will encourage consistent and well-informed resolution of these environmental cases.
While there are more than 360 environmental courts around the world, Hawai‘i would be one of two states to have a statewide court at the district and circuit levels focused on adjudication of environmental laws. Other communities with environmental courts include: Vermont, Washington State, Tennessee, New York, Virginia, Georgia, and Colorado, among others.
A very informative report on the importance of environmental courts is found at this link: Greening Justice - Creating and Improving Environmental Courts and Tribunals by Pring & Pring.
Please take a quick moment to lend your voice to the effort to pass SB632 and establish Hawai‘i's Environmental Court.
• Email all Senators
• Email all Representatives
Ring the bell!!! The Environmental Court is headed to conference committee. Woot, woot! This is the farthest this bill has ever gotten in the legislative process.
Mahalo to the members of the Senate and House Committees on the Environment and Judiciary and the House Finance Committee for shuttling this bill through the legislative process in an efficient and transparent way. We are so close to passing this bill.
But there is still much to do to ensure this bill gets to the Governor's desk. Some business trade groups strongly oppose the bill on the misguided theory that establishing an Environmental Court would be bad for business. Quite the opposite!
Establishing this court will help to further ensure that those businesses who pride themselves on environmentally-friendly operations are competing on a fair playing field against those businesses that have, up till now, simply incorporated harm to the environment as a cost of doing business.
This bill is important because it will establish a fairer and more efficient process for adjudicating violations of the protections established for our forests, oceans, wildlife, and public health. For all of the illegal dumpsites and abandoned vehicles, all of the fishing and hunting violations, for all the spills into our oceans and streams: the environment deserves its day in court.
The environmental court would function much like drug court, where cases concerning laws to protect our environment will be heard together on one docket by a judge focused on this area of law. With this focus comes more consistent outcomes. And with more consistent decisions comes more consistent enforcement and compliance. Residents, visitors, and businesses will know that Hawaii’s environmental protections are not just talk, but are truly and regularly enforced.
Now is the time to make sure all of our elected officials in the State Capitol understand the importance of this bill. Please take a moment to contact the Representatives and Senators in your area. Here is a link to a list of all Hawaii's state elected officials and their contact information. When you visit this link, input your zip code in the upper right-hand corner to find out which elected officials represent you.
Establishing an Environmental Court in Hawaii to improve enforcement of current environmental laws is a top priority for the members of The Outdoor Circle. Today, SB632, one of the bills proposing to do just that, is working its way through the state legislative process -- this is the farthest this bill has ever gotten! Now is our chance to demonstrate to legislators the vast public support for improving environmental protection in Hawaii with this important tool.
This bill has made its way through a gauntlet of committee hearings at the Hawaii State Legislature and is in a good position to be passed by legislators this session. You can help make it happen by submitting testimony in support of SB632 to the Senators and Representatives of the Hawaii State Legislature today. Below you will find a sample testimony that you can make your own and email addresses for all state elected officials.
People power works!
After years of lagging before the state Legislature in various forms, the Environmental Court concept is finally getting heard. Thanks to the combined efforts of The Outdoor Circle, Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful, students at UH's Richardson School of Law, and many concerned residents throughout Hawaii and abroad. Good work everyone! But we still have another lap to go -- we can't let up on the pressure yet.
Please forward this post to your family, friends, and co-workers. We all benefit from a clearer, more healthy environment. SB 632 will help make that happen! Post it on Facebook, send it out on twitter (#EcoCourt), call your neighbors, do whatever you can to help grow this movement and pass SB 632.
(modify this to make it unique and more effective)
Aloha Senators and Representatives,
Thank you for this opportunity to testify in strong support of SB 632 to establish an Environmental Court in the State of Hawaii.
As a society, we in Hawaii value our natural environment above most other things. We enshrined in our constitution that all residents have a right to a "clean and healthful environment." We departments at the state and county levels entrusted with protecting our natural resources for use now and forever into the future.
Yet, enforcement against violations of our environmental laws is often inconsistent between courts. This fosters confusion, undermines compliance, and fuels further litigation. Environmental statutes and regulations are sometimes very technical and require considerable study before judges are equipped to rule in these cases.
Establishing a section of our state court system to adjudicate violations of our environmental laws will help to improve enforcement of these laws. Improved enforcement will lead to reliability in the interpretation of and better compliance with environmental laws. This will mean a clearer environment and better public health for all residents of Hawaii.
This is why I urge you to pass SB 632.
First and Last Name
Send Your Testimony
Send your email to all Senators and all Representatives in the State Legislature by addressing your email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
To learn about the international movement to establish Environmental Courts, visit to European Union Forum of Judges for the Environment at www.eufje.org. Check out their thorough report on the topic, called: "Greening Justice".
Greenleaf is the online newsletter and blog of The Outdoor Circle. Here you will find updates on the projects and accomplishments of our many branches throughout the state, as well as programs with statewide impact.