Green forms team to address disasters and climate change

May 2, 2024 CTY Star-Advertiser photo by Craig T. Kojima CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM. Governor Josh Green gets a thank you hug from the Maui Senator, Angus McKelvey after signing of bill. Governor to sign an emergency wildfire funding bill and give update on response work.

Gov. Josh Green is enlisting experts and advocates to help pass future legislation addressing disaster and climate change issues.

Green announced Thursday that he is forming a Climate Advisory Team to spearhead policy efforts that include securing funding to mitigate disaster risks and impacts from climate change as well as tackling still-pending issues stemming from the Aug. 8 Maui wildfires.


“I’m going to task some of our best thinkers in the state on this topic,” he said Thursday at a news conference in his office at the state Capitol.

Green said formation of the team was largely in response to a few bills that failed to pass at the Legislature this year, including one to charge visitors a fee to pay for climate impacts, one to give electrical utilities access to low-cost bond financing for wildfire mitigation, and one to establish a fund to cover property damage resulting from catastrophic wildfires.

Another challenge for the team will be combating possible or actual decisions by insurance companies to quit providing coverage in Hawaii because of disaster risks.

“In time we have to get this tiger by the tail,” Green said. “We’re going to look at ways to mitigate the financial burdens of these kinds of disasters.”

Heading up the team as chair will be Chris Benjamin, retired CEO of local commercial real estate investment firm Alexander &Baldwin Inc.

Benjamin, who retired in 2023 and had worked at A&B since 2001 in positions that included managing the company’s now-closed Maui sugar plantation, has been co-chair of the Climate Coalition of the Hawaii Executive Collaborative.

Other team members are to include representatives from Ducera Partners, an investment banking firm that was involved in utility wildfire mitigation in California; O’Melveny &Myers, a law firm with wildfire experience; and Hueston Hennigan, a wildfire litigation defense firm already representing the state in the Maui disaster. Stakeholders will be engaged as well.

Green believes that knowledgeable advocates will be able to help shape and push legislation related to disaster and climate change mitigation that Hawaii lawmakers can pass in 2025, or possibly in a special session later this year if warranted, after some high-priority bills backed by the governor this year failed.

One failed bill would have imposed a $25 tax on transient accommodations to fund climate crisis prevention and response.

Green said that such a fee would generate $250 million annually to reduce disaster risks, deal with erosion and other things. “It has to happen,” he said of the fee.

Another bill that died despite considerable support among lawmakers would have allowed Hawaii electrical utilities to obtain low-cost bond financing to pay for wildfire mitigation. Repaying such bonds would fall to ratepayers, subject to state Public Utilities Commission approval, but would be less expensive for ratepayers than other financing.

Yet another bill that failed during this year’s legislative session, which ends today, would have established a fund for a state entity to provide compensation for property damage resulting from catastrophic wildfires in Hawaii.

Green gave credit to the Legislature for doing a lot this year to help Maui’s recovery from the disaster that killed 101 people and destroyed most of Lahaina, including about 3,500 homes.

Just before announcing the Climate Advisory Team, the governor signed a bill appropriating $385.4 million in emergency funding for Maui wildfire recovery and response costs in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Green thanked members of the Legislature for collaborating with his administration to assess and cover the funding needs dominated by $297 million for shelter, food and other assistance for Maui wildfire survivors.

The emergency appropriation in Senate Bill 582 also includes $72.5 million to help develop 450 modular temporary homes in Lahaina for fire survivors, and $65 million for the One ‘Ohana Fund to compensate for deaths and serious physical injuries in the fire if applicants forgo litigation.

Hawaii lawmakers, several of whom attended the bill-signing ceremony, are slated to vote today on a bill to provide around $470 million to help pay for Maui recovery work in the fiscal year that begins July 1. This bill, SB 3068, is expected to pass.

“The Senate and the House had to step up, and they did,” Green said.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee focused on financial legislation, thanked Green for the expeditious signing of SB 582.

“This bill is going to make a huge impact for the lives of Lahaina residents and Maui residents,” said Dela Cruz (D, Mililani-Wahiawa- Whitmore Village).

Rep. Kyle Yamashita, chair of the House Finance Committee, also thanked colleagues in the Legislature and the governor for their work on the funding measure.

“As somebody from Maui, this has been very devastating to all of us,” said Yamashita (D, Pukalani- Makawao-Ulupalakua). “But at the same time, it was heartwarming to see that the Legislature leadership and everybody not from Maui was willing to allow this to be a priority.”

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