The other day we told you that Hawaii had opened its first-ever Environmental Court. Well, the organization Stop Cane Burning wasted no time filing the court’s first lawsuit in hopes of ending Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S)’s practice of burning sugarcane in the field during harvesting.
“On July 1 Stop Cane Burning filed suit against the Hawaii Department of Health (DoH) alleging that the regulatory system which allows open air agricultural burning is unconstitutional,” stated a July 2 news release from Stop Cane Burning. “Their attorney, Lance D. Collins, is asking for an injunction to immediately stop agricultural burning on Maui. This is the first case on Maui to be filed in the new Environmental Court.”
As HC&S often says, the company employs 800 people on Maui to grow, harvest and process sugarcane. Their mill in Pu’unene marks the end of an era of industrialized sugar plantations in Hawaii that, at their peak a century ago, employed tens of thousands of people across the state. Though there are ways to harvest sugarcane that don’t require burning it in the fields, HC&S insists that their current method is the most efficient and cost-effective.
“Despite our efforts, HC&S has not been able to find another economical means of removing the cane leaves other than burning,” the company states on its website. “Nor is technology currently available to cost-effectively remove and produce energy from cane leaves. The energy cost of hauling and processing this additional material is higher than the value of utilizing it to produce energy.”
According to Stop Cane Burning, their suit against the DoH springs from the fact that the State of Hawaii had apparently tried to end the practice of cane burning back in the early 1970s (they helpfully included a link to this 1971 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article on that decision with their news release).
“In 1971, the DoH gave sugar plantations three years to end cane burning,” states the Stop Cane Burning news release. “Then head of the Air Sanitation Branch (now called Clean Air Branch) Robert S. Nekomoto cited a 1967 study which found a high incidence of asthma among people who breathed cane smoke. In 1973 backyard burning was banned on O’ahu and DoH banned it on all islands in 2012 saying ‘Open burning creates an unnecessary nuisance and possible health risk due to the smoke and air pollution it produces.'”
The Stop Cane Burning plaintiffs are Trinette Furtado (who is also active in the fight against the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope atop Haleakala), Brad Edwards and Karen Chun.
“[T]he sugarcane industry is not ‘a Hawaiian institution,'” says Furtado (who was born and raised on Maui) in the news release. “It was not KĀNAKA who industrialized it.”
Photo: Sean M. Hower