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Group pushes for repeal of PLDC

On a website the Sierra Club points to candidates who agree or disagree

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 8:25 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2012

The Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter has called for repeal of the Public Land Development Corp. and has begun a campaign to target state lawmakers who have supported the law.

Robert Harris, the Sierra Club's director, said Wednesday the group favors a repeal because the PLDC has not adopted suggestions to strengthen environmental protection in its administrative rules.

The group, among other things, wants the PLDC to stipulate that development projects that could cause adverse environmental problems would not move forward unless such effects are mitigated.

The Sierra Club has moved beyond a public policy debate about the PLDC and into political advocacy.

The group and other opponents have created a website,, that identifies where state House and Senate candidates in the general election Tuesday stand on repealing the law.

A red "X" appears next to the names of candidates who oppose a repeal, while a green checkmark appears next to those who favor a repeal.

The Hawaii and Kauai County Councils have also called for a repeal of the law, as have several lawmakers who voted to create the PLDC last year.

Harris said he believes opposition to the PLDC is growing and includes legislators who no longer want to be associated with the idea "because they're afraid that there may be a political consequence."

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has supported the PLDC for its potential to develop partnerships with private businesses for schools, housing, long-term care and early childhood education, described the Sierra Club's "grand theft aina" slogan as a "verbal assault."

"Excuse me, grand theft? Do they think that's cute? Do they think that helps enlighten anybody?" the governor asked. "It's clearly the kind of in-the-dirt politics that I guess some people think is a way to gain favorable public opinion."

Abercrombie said the motivation behind the PLDC is to help the state generate revenue. "What do they have mind?" he asked. "When is there going to be something coming from the Sierra Club other than saying ‘no' to whatever it is?"

The PLDC, which has broad exemptions from land use and county zoning laws and construction standards, has yet to develop a single project. The agency has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 13 on new draft administrative rules.

The initial draft was criticized as inadequate at public hearings last summer that were dominated by calls from environmental, progressive and labor organizations to repeal the law.

Abercrombie has said previously that he would veto a repeal. But he gave himself more tactical leeway Wednesday.

"We'll have to see how all that plays out, in terms of vetoes or anything," he said. "I don't think we're anywhere near that."

The Sierra Club also announced that in addition to the website, it will finance direct mail about the PLDC to help at least three candidates: Nicole Lowen, a Sierra Club board member running as a Demo­crat for an open House seat in West Hawaii; Laura H. Thielen, a former DLNR director who has made opposition to the PLDC a theme of her Demo­cratic campaign for a Windward and East Hono­lulu Senate seat; and Keiko Bonk, a Green Party candidate who wants to topple House Speaker Calvin Say from his long-held Palolo-Kaimuki seat.

The mailer aimed at Say accuses the speaker of "pay-to-play politics" for accepting campaign contributions from developers, lobbyists, contractors, ironworkers and carpenters who could benefit from PLDC projects.

Harris acknowledged that "in some ways maybe we're sending a message" to House leadership. A dissident faction, including several lawmakers close to the Sierra Club, has for years sought to replace Say as speaker.

"We hope that whoever the next speaker is would be somebody who would be willing to meet with us and work with us, which is something that did not happen last year," Harris said.

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