This guest post from Gary Hooser’s blog is republished with permission. Former Hawaii State Senator, Russell Ruderman is someone who deserves our attention as the Primary (August 13) approaches and ballots are due to arrive in our mailboxes mid-July. Candidates like Sergio Alcubilla and Kim Coco Iwamoto are taking on Rep. Ed Case (to represent CD1)and the House Speaker (to represent the downtown Honolulu District 25) respectively. Voters have the opportunity to elect real, committed Democrats to office nationally and locally. Nearly 400,000 did not vote in the last election. Perhaps Senator Ruderman’s perspective may move them to exercise their precious right to vote in this critical election year.
Many of us hoped we’d see some changes at the legislature after a couple of our lawmakers were caught with envelopes full of cash. But there will be no meaningful changes this year, at least not before election time.
The most important legislative ethics bills have been killed already. Similarly, we’ve seen no action to address the shocking abuses at the Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC), which were illuminated by Auditor Les Kondo. The House ‘leadership’ chose to shoot the messenger and ignore the message, as we saw in the shameful harassment of the Auditor by Rep. Au Bellati’s special committee, on behalf of “leadership.’ My question for such ‘leadership’ is, “What are you hiding?”
There are precious few honest, gutsy people in positions of authority in our state government; Les Kondo is one. If we allow those few to be publicly harassed as Mr. Kondo has been, there will be even fewer of them.
Additionally, the House and Senate are playing a game of ‘chicken’ with the minimum wage issue, a game they love to play to justify inaction. As for common-sense reforms such as term limits, Sunshine laws, and donations during session (aka bribery), these are not even on the table.
Business as usual, folks, nothing to see here!
I’d like to highlight an abuse of power that has gotten little attention, SB2510, proposed by Senators Donovan DelaCruz and Glenn Wakai. This bill has the innocuous title ‘Relating to Renewable Energy,’ and has enough fluffy nonsense in it to bore most readers before getting to the point. But in fact, if passed in its original form or similar, it will increase electric rates on every island, remove planning flexibility from our utilities and P.U.C., reward carbon-polluting large corporations, and set back our efforts to address climate change.
Senators Dela Cruz and Wakai have lately been on a run of harassing the PUC for not doing their bidding. They have no business doing so; it’s not their job. Our PUC is refreshingly honest and independent, and stubbornly concerns itself with the public good instead of the hidden agendas of these senators.
The bill as written by Wakai, Dela Cruz, and the corporations they represent, would require a set percentage of ‘firm renewable’ sources in our electric utilities. Sounds fine so far, but doing so would constrain the utilities from adopting the best, cheapest, and most environmentally safe reliable mix of resources. Because Wakai and DelaCruz somehow, magically and without any professional training, know better than the PUC or H.E.I.
The senators proposed a minimum 55% portion of energy to be ‘firm renewables,’ which they then try to define. How do they know 55% is the right portion? Their corporate clients told them so. 55% would help Hu Honua, aka Honua Ola, justify their tree burning facility, as geothermal, a non-carbon renewable, will fall just short of this goal. Remarkable coincidence, of course. It will also incentivize plants like AES to continue burning carbon fuels well into the future. Along the way, rates will rise significantly on Oahu as a result of such a mandate. Energy advocates and environmental groups both oppose this, a rare alliance. In its current form (HD2) the 55% has been removed by saner heads and replaced by fudge words, but we can expect it to magically return at conference time when anything goes without explanation.
In fact, with solar and battery tech evolving and rapidly getting cheaper, a more flexible mix with extra solar, wind, and battery capacity will be cheaper and just as reliable.
Perhaps it’s gone unnoticed, but our electric utilities and PUC have guided Hawaii to be the nation’s leader in renewable energy, and have done so with the careful planning that is standard with such professionals. They somehow did it without any help from Senators Dela Cruz and Wakai, but now the good senators are stepping in to save us from this pattern of consistency and professionalism.
I know some of the planners at PUC and HEI a little bit. They are capable professionals in their field and have kept the lights on through our transition to renewables. I also know Senators Dela Cruz and Wakai quite well. Fair play, democratic principles, and concern for our environment have never hindered their efforts to please their corporate sponsors.
This is part of the corruption issue because the senators are not representing the people of their district and the state. They are representing polluting corporations who get their way through ‘influence’ at the legislature. Such influence may be more subtle than envelopes of cash, but it is just as corrupt, just as harmful to our society, and is a perversion of democracy. The influence occurs through legal means such as consultancy fees, donations from lobbyists, favors for friends and family, and other ways.
The fact that such influence and such corporate-sponsored bills are routine and technically legal does not make them acceptable. It shows the changes we need which are not happening.
We must change this culture. Since the Legislature has done nothing at all to address its own corruption, and smugly sweeps the whole issue under the rug, I call upon our citizens to recognize the broken system we have and choose different legislators in August and in November. Nothing less will wake them up.
Russell E. Ruderman
17-415 Ipuaiwaha St
Keaau HI 96749
President, Island Naturals Markets
Former State Senator