Monday, July 6, 2015

Maui Lawmaker Outlines Plan to Address Cane Burning

State Representative Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) responded to a lawsuit that the group “Stop Cane Burning” filed last Thursday against the state Department of Health (DOH) seeking an injunction to prevent cane burning by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. (HC&S) on Maui.

“Stop Cane Burning’s lawsuit is a reminder to policy makers of what happens when we ignore an issue for too long. If we don’t craft solutions that work for everyone, the result is messy litigation that divides our community. The Legislature’s intermediary role is to craft solutions that unites people and prevents this from happening. If we can help HC&S find a more profitable crop and end cane burning, then it’s a win-win.”

Ing said that cane-burning is the number one issue in his district and has received over two thousand phone calls and emails regarding cane burning since assuming office in 2012. Ing claims that while HC&S’s previous pilots toward alternative crops and harvesting methods were unsuccessful, the State could help make these efforts more prolific.

“Sugarcane and pineapple are beautiful, but so are sunflower and hemp fields, which require no burning. Not many people would be opposed to this sort of transition if it made economic sense. Already, pineapple is gone, and sugarcane is facing yearly losses of over $11 million. So we must act now. I have set out a plan to work with HC&S, its employee union (ILWU), and the broader community to ameliorate tensions and lead us to solutions that we can all support.”

Ing outlined a three-point plan:

1. First, focus on improving meteorological data collection to better predict weather changes and prevent events like the May 27 burn, when smoke stifled our schools and other public places.

Protecting public health should be our foremost focus. The legislature should support and fund DOH’s efforts to ramp up its data collection and reporting. The legislature could further facilitate HC&S’s already expressed cooperation with DOH in tightening up its no-burn criteria.

2. Secondly, identify plots suitable for mechanical, no-burn harvesting and the associated costs. Create a sensible public-interest-driven economic incentive for conversion.

HC&S already owns mechanical harvesters that it has used in a 10,000 acre pilot project years ago, but insufficient yield precluded permanent conversion. The legislature should expand the 5-year tax credit already provided to Important Agricultural Land designated areas to include the landscaping and infrastructure costs of converting plots to mechanical, no-burn, and environmentally-friendly harvesting practices.

3. Lastly, incentivize HC&S to convert or lease out land for biofuel or food crop. Make alternative crops and harvesting methods make economic sense.

HC&S has received millions of dollars in grants to identify more profitable alternative crops, all to no avail. Some have come close, but require a small boost to compete with federal sugar subsidies. The legislature should further expand Important Agricultural Land tax credits to reduce costs for farmers looking to lease HC&S sugarcane land to grow food or energy crops like kalo, sunflower, or hemp. As long as the result is more profitable, it would make sense for HC&S to act immediately to help diversify our agriculture industry and create a more independent and sustainable future for Hawaii.

“The children of HC&S employees breathe the same air as everyone else, and no one wants to see a neighbor lose their job. It’s time for leaders to craft solutions that unite, not divide, our community like mechanical harvesting and alternative crops. We all want to keep Maui green, so let’s move forward together.”

Ing has been meeting with all stakeholders involved to draft a bill package that will be ready for introduction in the 2016 legislative session. He is also exploring immediate solutions that can be done administratively or at the County level.

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