Collaborating to protect Maui County’s environment
By Kelly Takaya King
Preventing environmental damage is more effective than responding to ecological harm and does more to mitigate potential climate change effects.
Protecting the fragile and precious natural environment on Maui County’s islands—and in the surrounding waters—begins with each one of us doing what we can as consumers and citizens to reduce our carbon footprint. But it also requires resolute, proactive leadership.
The Maui County Council declared our recognition of the climate emergency more than two years ago by unanimously adopting my Resolution 19-209. We’ve made some progress since then, but more needs to be done—with a sense of urgency consistent with the “emergency mobilization effort” promised in the resolution.
The task is daunting. But collaborating on positive changes can help accomplish the stated goal “to drastically reduce countywide emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases” by 2030.
During my trip last fall to COP 26—the U.N. Climate Change Conference—I was inspired by the demonstrated commitment to dramatic improvements in environmental protection by scientists, policymakers and other concerned people from all walks of life. There was widespread agreement that municipal governments can make a major difference—and that’s exactly what the council is working to do.
Shortly after I returned from the conference, the council unanimously passed Bill 135 (2021) to prohibit the sale, use and distribution of non-mineral sunscreens on the recommendation of the Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee. The bill was signed into law on Dec. 6 and enacted as Ordinance 5306.
Lauded by Dr. Craig Downs, one of the world’s leading forensic ecotoxicologists, as the boldest protection for marine life from chemical sunscreens in the nation and an inspiration for countries around the globe, the CARE committee decision was based on data and testimony from additional scientists, environmental protection organizations, State Department of Land and Natural Resources employees and Maui County residents.
As of Oct. 1, when the ordinance takes effect, the sale, distribution or use of prohibited sunscreens will be a violation of Chapter 20.24, Maui County Code, subject to administrative penalties. Fines will be deposited into the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Fund.
I’m honored to serve on the board of directors for ICLEI USA—the national affiliate of ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. More important, the County of Maui is involved in two ICLEI-related initiatives.
By adopting Resolution 21-166 on Nov. 5, the council accepted ICLEI’s offer to have Maui County join a small, but growing, number of municipalities in the Cities With Nature project, and I was authorized to join the State of Hawai‘i in signing on behalf of Maui County the Edinburgh Declaration [https://gov.scot/publications/edinburgh-declaration-on-post-2020-biodiversity-framework/] while at COP26. As stated on CitiesWithNature.org, this project is “a unique initiative that recognizes and enhances the value of nature in and around cities across the world.”
The county will also be among the first U.S. municipalities to benefit from ICLEI’s Circle City Scan Tool. Our local economy will be assessed to learn how it can become more “circular.”
“A circular economy reduces material use, redesigns materials to be less resource intensive and recaptures ‘waste’ as a resource to manufacture new materials and products,” according to the EPA.
Making transportation more climate-friendly in both the public and private sectors is important too.
I commend farmers like Gerry Ross and Evan Ryan for decades of fueling their farm equipment with locally produced biodiesel, along with several private fleets like Maui Disposal. Mahalo also to the increasing number of electric vehicle owners who power their charging systems with solar panels. And I’m excited about the promise of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to facilitate more energy-efficient and renewable vehicles in our county fleet.
Other progress requires help from state legislators.
The Hawai‘i State Association of Counties has asked the legislature to create a Climate Change Mitigation Impact Fee on rental cars. The revenue would be deposited into the Climate Change Mitigation Special Fund, which could be tapped into for environmental initiatives.
As the council’s representative on the HSAC executive committee, I’ll track this and other bills during the 2022 legislative session. It will take all councilmembers working in tandem with state lawmakers to ensure a clean and just transition to a sustainable future.
* Kelly Takaya King is chair of the Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee. She holds the council seat for the South Maui residency area and also serves on the Local Government Advisory Committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.