Today, Maui County announced its intent to file a lawsuit to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their role in the climate crisis. For over fifty years, the fossil fuel industry knew that their products—oil, gas and coal—would cause detrimental impacts to the world’s climate. Instead of acting for the greater good, the industry doubled down on production and spent millions on alternative science and misinformation campaigns.
In response to Maui County’s announcement, the Sierra Club Maui Group has released this statement:
“Every day Maui Nui battles with the hardships of the climate crisis,” said Rob Weltman, Maui Group Executive Committee Chair. “This crisis was made worse by the fossil fuel industry’s well-funded deception campaign that delayed action on climate change and made them billions of dollars. At the same time, just three feet of sea level rise will cost Maui County alone $3.2 billion in loss of residential structures and land—in addition to creating conditions for more severe hurricanes, wildfires and droughts. This litigation empowers the County to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers while holding the industry accountable for its contribution to the climate crisis. It makes sense for Maui County to file suit now, to stand-up for its residents and hold the industry responsible for misleading the public and policymakers about the immense risk their products pose to people and the planet.”
Contact Marti Townsend, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Director for press inquiries.
Learn more and take action at sierraclubhawaii.org/climate
Read more on sea level rise impact costs at: Hawaiʻi Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, page 98
The federal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) looked at the request from four wind farms on three Hawaiian islands to drastically increase the number of opeʻapeʻa (Hawaiian Hoary Bats) “taken” during their project lifetimes. It considered three options:
Which alternative is most in line with the charter of the Fish and Wildlife Service? The final report says:
“Pursuant to NEPA implementing regulations found at 40 CFR 15.2(b), the Service identified Alternative 3—Increased Curtailment as the environmentally preferred alternative in the RODs.”
And which alternative did they choose? Alternative 2.
These underwater pictures from the reef off of Kahekili Beach Park show the extent of the damage suffered in the last several years. Runoff, global warming and El Nino events have added to the attack on this precious and irreplaceable resource, but a significant contributor is the release of treated wastewater high in nitrogen and phosphorous through the Lahaina injection wells. These “nutrients” stimulate the growth of algae that smother the corals.
Despite the scientific studies showing the damage and decline in the coral reef off of Kahekili Beach Park, along with what everyone using that shoreline area can see with their own eyes, Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino made a press release August 28, 2019 which said:
“West Maui ocean water quality has improved since 2009, …,” Perry said. “If ocean conditions were negatively impacted by recycled water seeping into the ocean from the injection wells, then reef conditions would continue to deteriorate. They have not.”
August 28, 2019 #injectionwells #maui #petition
A petition with 15,962 names was handed over to Maui County Council Chair Kelly King this morning, asking the County to settle the Lahaina injection wells case rather than pursue it to the Supreme Court, and to invest in eliminating ocean pollution instead of continued litigation.
A large banner had a small photo taken in the waters off Kahekili Beach Park (where treated wastewater is released) for each of the 15,000+ names on the petition. People around the country fear that Maui County’s fight to weaken the Clean Water Act will allow polluters to avoid regulation in every state.
Present to deliver the petition were:
Hannah Bernard (Hawaii Wildlife)
Peregrine Paulson (Hawaii Wildlife)
Isaac Moriwake (Earthjustice)
Te’sha Makame Kaikamahine Martines-Melim (Surfrider)
Jenny Roberts (Surfrider)
Lance Collins (WMPA)
Lynda Nye (WMPA)
Lucienne Denaie (Sierra Club)
Rob Weltman (Sierra Club)
Kecia Joy (Sierra Club)
Press release from Earthjustice for the petition delivery:2019-8-27 1999 Pet. Delivery Press Release FINAL
For immediate release: Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Contact: Mahesh Cleveland, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436 x6621
Wailuku, Maui, HI — Today, Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation, with support from Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund and West Maui Preservation Association, delivered two petitions to Maui County Council Chair Kelly King. The petitions, signed by over 15,000 Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation members nationwide, urges the Maui County government to settle the legal case involving its Lahaina wastewater treatment plant and withdraw its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The four community groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed a complaint with the Hawai‘i Federal District Court in 2012, alleging that Maui County was in violation of the Clean Water Act for its injection well discharges of municipal wastewater into the Pacific Ocean just offshore of Kahekili Beach Park in West Maui. The District Court agreed, and its decision was unanimously upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the case is before the Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for November 6, 2019. The County has allied with the Trump Administration in claiming that the pollution of the ocean via groundwater is exempt from the Clean Water Act.
“This case is being closely and eagerly watched by some of the worst polluters in the country,” says Earthjustice attorney Mahesh Cleveland. “The loophole the County seeks would allow industrial and municipal polluters to evade regulation under the Clean Water Act simply by moving their discharges just short of the shores of navigable waters, or disposing of pollutants via groundwater. A Supreme Court ruling in the County’s favor would have serious negative impacts on water quality nationwide.”
The citizen group plaintiffs, who urged the County to address the pollution at Kahekili Beach for four years before finally filing the 2012 citizen’s suit to enforce the law, still hope the County will address the problem locally at home, without pushing to create dangerous national precedent at the Supreme Court.
“We’re asking the County to fix this problem and give our reefs a chance to recover,” said Hannah Bernard, Executive Director of Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund. “The County’s refusal to protect an ecosystem in our backyard could jeopardize public health and clean water across the country. But it’s not too late for the County to do the right thing.”
The Sierra Club petition, signed by over 13,000 members across the United States, calls on Maui County to settle the case instead of pursuing the Supreme Court appeal, warning that “one wastewater treatment plant in Hawai‘i is not worth gutting the Clean Water Act.” The Surfrider petition, signed by another 2,547 citizens, asks the County government to “settle the Lahaina Injection Well Lawsuit and work with the community to find alternative long-term solutions that will protect Maui’s reefs and beaches, and ensure continued protections under the Clean Water Act for all Americans.”
The petitions, delivered this morning to County Council Chair King at her office in Wailuku, come in advance of a Council committee hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, September 3, when it is expected that the committee will hear testimony and vote on a resolution to settle the case and withdraw the appeal.
“The County’s claim that it can lawfully use groundwater as a sewer to carry millions of gallons of polluted wastewater from the Lahaina injection wells to the ocean each day is absurd,” said David Henkin, the lead Earthjustice attorney representing the community groups. “As both the Hawaiʻi district court and the Ninth Circuit have already concluded, the Clean Water Act flatly prohibits such threats to our nation’s waters. If need be, we will present this compelling case to the Supreme Court in November, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. The County still has time to change course and focus on solutions, rather than more litigation.”
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Hawaiʻi regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, Native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai‘i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.