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Skeptics question need for specialized court

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When creation of a new Environmental Court system was debated in the 2014 Hawaii Legislature, it drew hearty support — but also opposition. While testimony universally backed the intent of promoting and protecting Hawaii’s natural environment, questions were raised about the need and justification for such a specialized court entity.

Among those questioning the plan were the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, the Land Use Research Foundation (LURF) and the Hawaii Farm Bureau. LURF, whose members include major Hawaii landowners, developers, ranchers and farmers, outlined several objections:

» Lack of justification for such a court; it noted no evidence that the Judiciary’s current handling of environmental cases was deficient, and that most environmental-related cases are resolved by administrative proceedings and not by the courts.

» That other less-costly and more-efficient options be explored, such as improving the administrative law judicial system or reforming the Judiciary internally and less formally.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau echoed the doubt that a separate court system was necessary.

"There is no evidence that a new court system would deter environmental law violations or resolve environmental cases more expeditiously than the present circuit court system," it testified. "And, based on the number of cases filed on these matters and the expert opinion of the judiciary itself, it is apparently unnecessary."

It noted that when the Judiciary had provided a preliminary survey of relevant cases filed over the past 13 years, that survey indicated "that there is NO need for an environmental court in Hawaii."

Instead, the farm bureau urged then, as it does now: "Funds could be used proactively to increase awareness of the current environmental regulations and, through educational programs, assist businesses in compliance with them, before any potential detrimental impact to the environment occurs."

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