Most of the service function of the Center is accomplished through a formal review process specifically designed to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the item under review. Thus, all documents under consideration first are screened by Center staff to identify major issues and to select university personnel most appropriate as reviewers. Documents are transmitted to these reviewers, with the request that their consideration focus on their respective areas of expertise. The Center then synthesizes their voluntarily submitted comments into a single coordinated review, working closely with individual reviewers to ensure that their thoughts are both clearly expressed and understandable to those to whom the review will be submitted. In some cases, such as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and permit application processes, there are provisions for agency or applicant responses to our review, and the Center coordinates transmission of these responses to the university reviewers to facilitate resolution of remaining issues of concern.
Reviews of EIA:
Since the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), EIA has become an increasingly commonplace and important feature of environmental management. Anticipation and prevention of unwanted environmental consequences of development has been shown repeatedly to be far more cost-effective than reactive restoration and clean-up. EIA has become a cornerstone of the proactive approach to environmental management.
As with NEPA, Hawaii’s EIA system (Chapter 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes) establishes a tiered process in which proposed actions require disclosure of likely effects at a level of detail generally proportional to the severity of the impact. Thus, an action which invokes the system may be exempt from review, or may require preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA), or if the effects may be significant, a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be required.
Because we were created as part of the State’s efforts to “determine and maintain the optimum quality of the environment” the Center places particular emphasis on the Environmental Impact Assessment process. As a general policy, all EIS’s pertinent to Hawaii are reviewed, and the Center’s reviews are printed in the final version of the EIS document as required by the State EIS law (Chapter 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes). The Center also reviews certain Environmental Assessments for projects where significance of the impacts appears debatable. Reviews also are undertaken of certain land use permits such as those issued by the Army Corps if Engineers, the State Departments of Land and Natural Resources, Health, and Agriculture, and various county agencies, particularly those having responsibilities for activities proposed in the coastal zone.
During each State Legislative session, thousands of bills and resolutions are introduced, many of which directly or indirectly affect Hawaii’s environment. As part of our Service function, the Center screens all measures introduced during each session, selecting those which appear to have environmental relevance. When one of these measures is scheduled for a public hearing, a formal review is initiated following the same general procedure as other reviews. However, the legislative review process is highly accellerated, because only 48-hour notice is generally provided prior to the hearing. Under these circumstances, the value of an established review mechanism is particularly apparent.
Comments provided during the legislative review process are coordinated, and written testimony is prepared and submitted to the relevant legislative committee and presented orally at the hearings. At the time of the hearing, the Center representative also is available to answer particular questions posed by legislators on the matter at hand. As a consequence of our long history of contributions to legislative deliberations, the Center is well-known as a reliable source of objective information. Both during the session and in the interim between sessions, we often are called upon by various senators and representatives for advice and information relating to matters of environmental interest.