News that the organization Stop Cane Burning filed a lawsuit in the state’s new Environmental Court against the state Department of Health over–you guessed it–cane burning has moved at least one legislator to offer some proposals for weaning Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) off of the dirty, archaic method of harvesting sugar. And I wasn’t surprised to see that the legislator is state Representative Kaniela Ing, D–South Maui.
In fact, Ing’s in a tough spot. He’s a local who, as a July 2 news release from his office makes clear, “identifie[s]” with HC&S’ workers. “As a fourth-generation Mauian of mixed heritage, I am a direct product of our plantation history,” Ing said in the news release. “I grew up with cane burning as a way of life with many of my friends depending on the salaries that HC&S provided their families.”
But in the news release, Ing stopped short of condemning the Stop Cane Burning lawsuit–which is quite popular with much of Ing’s constituency. In fact, he seems to see it as an opportunity.
“Stop Cane Burning’s lawsuit is a reminder to policy makers of what happens when we ignore an issue for too long,” Ing said in the news release. “If we don’t craft solutions that work for everyone, the result could be litigation that hurts everyone—no matter which side prevails. The Legislature’s intermediary role is to craft a solution that prevents this from happening.”
To that end, Ing has three proposals:
- Commission a study to “analyze complaints, weather patterns, and suitable terrain, to identify problematic plots that can immediately converted to mechanical harvesting and how much such a conversion will cost.”
- Fund “HC&S and DOH’s efforts to ramp up its meteorological reporting to better predict and call-off the type of burn that happened on May 27.”
- And then expand tax credits for “Important Agricultural Land designated areas to include feasibility studies and the cost of converting operations to no-burn harvesting or leasing out cane plots to diversified crops such as sunflower for biofuel or hemp for a variety of uses.”
They are, for the most part, rather modest and gentle ideas (oh boy, a study on weather patterns!) but they do show that at least one state legislator is paying attention to the issue. In fact, Ing says he can have a package of bills ready for the start of the 2016 legislative session. Of course, given the considerable power HC&S (and its parent company Alexander & Baldwin) hold with the Legislature, it will be most interesting to watch how just how far Ing’s bills go.
“At the end of the day, we are all one community on Maui,” Ing said. “No one wants to see their neighbors lose their jobs or suffer from asthma. We’re in this together. I believe that if we can come together in full earnestness, candor, and aloha, then we can move away from cane burning, diversify our agriculture, preserve 750 jobs, and keep Maui’s central valley green. We should all support that.”
Photo of Kaniela Ing courtesy State of Hawaii