What the TMT Controversy is Really About

All the controversy about the Thirty Meter Telescope is not about the TMT. What it’s become is a convenient vehicle for focusing on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, and on the University of Hawai‘i not doing a good job in the past of caring for the mountain.

When celebrities got involved and the TMT subject went viral, it galvanized the energy of the younger folk. These folks were only in middle school when the TMT project started, so there is a very steep learning curve.

Over the last seven years, the TMT has gone through all the legal requirements and the judge ruled that it is the telescope project can begin construction.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says that in order for a project to be sustainable, it needs to be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. The TMT fulfills all these requirements.

I think people have the erroneous view that the TMT is a big, investor-owned, money making corporation. It is not. It’s a non-profit organization and Henry Yang, its president, doesn’t even draw a salary. He does it because he knows it will bring benefits to our community.

I recognized this from early in the project and it’s the reason I’m such a supporter of the TMT. I’m also a big supporter of the TMT’s THINK education fund, which will allow our youth to dream big.

The problem with dreaming small is that your dreams might come true.

We want our keiki to feel proud of themselves. We want them to dream big!

It’s Time to Speak Up in Support of TMT

It is time. We need to speak up in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) now.

There are two easy ways to do this:

1) Please take this very quick, five-question OHA survey. It will literally only take you a minute or two.

2) In addition to the survey, we all need to speak up and tell OHA that we support the TMT. We cannot be afraid or intimidated to testify. There’s been too much of that, and there is too much at stake not to speak up.

Please email the OHA trustees before their meeting this Thursday, 4/30/15, and let them know, in your own words, that you support the TMT.

For your convenience, here are their email addresses:

robertl@oha.org, colettem@oha.org, petera@oha.org, reynoldf@oha.org, rowenaa@oha.org, crayna@oha.org, hulul@oha.org, dana@oha.org, leia@oha.org

For your own information, here is some good background about the TMT. The first offers clear, accurate, and easy-to-understand questions and answers about the TMT, and the second is a timeline showing the entire TMT process from 2008 to today:

Thank you for speaking up in support of the TMT by this Thursday. We who support the TMT haven’t been speaking out, but we need to. It’s time.

Where’s The Plan?

My letter to the editor titled Stay Home ran in today’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

Stay Home

Regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope: Now, outsiders are coming to the Big Island to run our lives. Since when is that pono? Stay home. We don’t want you here.

The outsiders want to stop the TMT. Listen: We have the state’s lowest median family income. We have drug problems, spousal abuse problems, teenage pregnancies and the social ills that follow from that. The TMT is the only entity actually putting its money — a lot of it — where its mouth is.

They are offering education, the great equalizer. We of the older generation, fortunate enough to have our educations, are lucky. No one can take that away from us. But what about the youngsters coming up? Who will help them?

Usually, the present generation tries to help the next generation do just a little bit better. But on the Big Island right now, it’s just the opposite. And it’s being influenced by folks with fame and money who don’t even live here.

I am a Hawaiian. I respect my culture and its religion and traditions. I also respect its future. The Facebook generation tends to think in terms of today and tomorrow, but we Hawaiians used to think in terms of seven generations.

In 140 years, there won’t be telescopes on the mountain at all. We need to think about this carefully and not just react. How will we save ourselves on the Big Island?

It concerns me that the TMT protestors are reacting, rather than planning. It’s short term and emotional decision-making. Where is their 10-year plan for getting where we need to be? There’s no plan at all.

The Thirty Meter Telescope people spent almost seven years interacting with the community about its concerns and developing a careful plan – now approved – that put lots of money, education, and jobs into our island’s economy. It was unprecedented. I know this because I attended almost every TMT meeting for seven years.

The people protesting now weren’t at those meetings. Most were only in middle school when the process began so they have no idea what went on and how much was accomplished. It was phenomenal, and set the bar for the level of engagement we can expect from a corporation coming onto the Big Island.

Tossing out the TMT people now would be an enormous mistake and send the worst possible message we could ever send to any other company that ever wants to do business in Hawai‘i.

I actually have great optimism about today’s young people. I see it in their faces when I work with them in the many issues I’m involved with – they are smart and passionate and engaged.

What we need now is for the ones who can see the big picture to step forward and lead. There are huge changes going on in the world right now, and some young people don’t understand this yet. Some older people don’t even fully realize it yet.

But everything you hear me talking about is to try to position our island and our next generations: So our electricity will be affordable. So our food will be affordable. So education will improve. So people will be able to find jobs. So our crime rate will not continue to soar. So our children and grandchildren won’t have to move to the mainland because they cannot afford to live here.

My message is always about having a plan for where our island and its people need to be in five, ten, fifteen years. The long-term plan needs to be about all of us, not just a few of us. The Thirty Meter Telescope will, in quite a few different ways, help us move toward that plan.

We need young people to lead us there, too.

OHA & the Thirty Meter Telescope

Richard Ha writes:

I testified at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) on Wednesday regarding the protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Sixty-five people showed up, the vast majority of them in favor of the TMT.

I introduced myself as a Big Island farmer who produced more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables in the last 35 years. I flunked out of the University of Hawai‘i and then got drafted and went to Vietnam, where the unspoken rule was that we all come back or no one does. After we all came back, I returned to school and majored in accounting to be able to keep score. I was the only person from Hawai‘i to attend five Peak Oil conferences. I have attended most of the TMT meetings over the past seven years.

I made two main points.

1. OHA needs to act like parents and kupuna.

We are starting to see lots of outside Islanders coming to stick their spoon into Big Island business. Activist Walter Ritte even came from Moloka‘i to advocate for the removal of all the telescopes from Mauna Kea.

When Big Islanders were in charge, I didn’t worry about public safety. Now, though, I am very worried. We are seeing folks wearing hoodies and bandanas, and they’re hiding their identities. The leaders have got to stop that. It puts a hair trigger on the situation, and it’s dangerous.

We saw someone like that recently, and we knew he wasn’t from the Big Island because he was driving a bright red Jeep. Nobody drives a bright red Jeep; those are only rental cars.

The folks protesting are getting false hope that they can get all the telescopes off the mountain if only they push back harder. And the discourse is pilau. People are insulting people. This is very dangerous.

OHA needs to act like parents and kupuna. This is not rocket science. You folks all know that the process was followed; that is why the permits were issued. Don’t give people false hope. The young people protesting who are college-age now were only in middle school when we started the process to make sure the project was done right. This is why they don’t know about the intricate, seven-year process the Thirty Meter Telescope people went through to work through all the issues the protestors are just now talking about.

It is OHA’s job now to do the right thing. Just tell them—they’re not going to change the law. Letting them think that will possibly escalate the problem and the mounting safety issues. That’s the kind of thing that is going to cause something to happen. We don’t want anybody getting hurt.

2. Remember what the TMT will bring to our community. The Big Island has the lowest median family income of all the counties. And the Kona side is higher than the county average, making the east side even lower than the county’s average. The Pahoa/Ka‘u/Kea‘au school complex is in the top four in the state for the free/subsidized lunch program. This island’s spouse abuse, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy rates are high.

Henry Yang, president of the TMT Corporation, came to the Big Island to talk with the community fifteen times. He came personally and talked to folks on the other side of the table, and he listened. He didn’t assign someone else to come; he came himself. That’s how the THINK fund was born. Nothing fancy, just listen. They are developing a work force so kids now in high school can follow a path to jobs. They did an environmental study, instead of taking the shorter way.

The TMT set the bar for how other big companies should interact with the community. To turn them away would be the most irresponsible thing we could do.

The Big Island needs jobs, and we need to diversify our economy to protect ourselves from rising oil and gas prices. The TMT is free money. The THINK fund helps our kids not fortunate enough to have gotten a Kamehameha Schools education. They are the ones who need help. Once you get an education, no one can take it away.

Acting like parents and kupuna will ensure that you address public safety as well as move up the folks on the lower rungs of the economic ladder—those not fortunate enough to go to Kamehameha Schools, or to take advantage of the GI bill like me. Education is the great equalizer.

Are Shale Oil Bankruptcies Coming Soon?

Richard Ha writes:

This Wall St. for Main St. video has oil and energy expert Robert Rapier as guest and it’s a very interesting discussion.

Robert, an internationally known energy expert who was recently on 60 Minutes, discusses various scenarios around the price of oil and cause-and-effect. I like Robert because he has no fear. He calls it like he sees it. He has a chemical engineering background and he has actually run a petroleum plant. He knows what it takes to make ends meet.

Here are some highlights of the discussion:

Robert says that because March and April are normal maintenance months it’s not likely that oil will drop into the $40/barrel range, unless it’s only for a very short time. Usage has started to ramp up in the last few weeks.

He thinks that oil will be in the $50-$70/barrel range for the next few years. The trend will be for the oil price to rise due to demand. T. Boone Pickens feels the price will hit $100/barrel in two years. Robert thinks it will be a little longer. $100 per barrel oil is not good. Any higher than that is bad.

Hedges come off in the next year, so most producers are hoping desperately for higher prices. Demand has increased by one million barrels every year for the last five years, mostly supplied by shale oil. But shale oil wells deplete very quickly. 

Rig count, normally a leading indicator, has fallen but we haven’t seen supply drop yet. Hedges running out in a year will add to upward pressure. Within the year we will start to see the effect of declining rig count.

Robert thinks Saudi will talk about raising prices at the next OPEC meeting. He doesn’t think Saudi Arabia expected to drop to the $40s.

Shale oil is not a panacea. The U.S. has a huge infrastructure advantage over the rest of the world. We have pipelines, water, and refineries in position. For the rest of the world, it means new capital spending. So supply from world shale oil will probably be minimal.

Conventional oil has been declining and U.S. shale oil will not last very long so the world needs to go to natural gas or deep water, and that will put pressure on natural gas prices. After shale oil and gas, there is no more. 

If you like to see the background to the oil and gas supply markets, I highly recommend Robert Rapier’s view of things. It gives you an insider view.

Here in Hawai‘i we depend on oil for 70 percent of our energy. We will transition to natural gas and before long that price will start to rise. We need to grab all the advantages we can get.

Do not throw away the Thirty Meter Telescope, geothermal, and biotech crops. These all help us cope in a world of declining petroleum products.

Submit Your Testimony in Support of Local Electric Utility Ownership

Richard Ha writes:

If you'd like to submit testimony re: Rep. Lowen's resolution re: local ownership and control of electric utilities, follow this link. It's being heard Monday, and any testimony has to be received 24 hours in advance, which means by Sunday afternoon.

Kaua‘i Island Utility Co-op (KIUC) is a successful example of an alternative utility ownership model. Each person or entity with an electric meter has one vote, and those votes elect the board of directors, which guides the co-op's direction. Profits are retained internally and any excess is distributed to the folks with an electric meter.

Instead of being, say, merely one lonely utility in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a co-op such as KIUC is part of a large network of 900 such electricity co-ops throughout the nation. These co-ops have a network that provides help to the individual co-ops, and the co-op network owns its own finance company, too, with assets of more than $26 billion.

Most important, the dreams and aspirations of the owner of the co-op are the dreams and aspirations of the local people–everybody with electric meters.

Submit any testimony at the "submit testimony" link on this page, but it needs to go in before Sunday afternoon.

Support for New ‘Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act’

Richard Ha writes:

This is very interesting. The Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act was just introduced, which would establish a federal labeling standard for food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients GMOs).

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) just issued a very positive response to this federal labeling standard, as did the American Farm Bureau Federation. I'm including both below, and I agree completely with both of them.

Both praise the new act and agree that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be the entity to govern this policy, as opposed to a patchwork of state and local laws throughout the country. It's the FDA that has the expertise: the people, the labs, the backing of all the major science organizations. The FDA is the organization that monitors for food safety.

This is exactly the kind of thing we've been talking about on the Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry advisory committee.

I am very glad to see we are all in agreement.       

GMA

March 25, 2015

GMA Praises Introduction of National Food Labeling Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, issued the following statement in response to the introduction today of The Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) to establish a federal labeling standard for food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs):

“No matter where they live or shop, all Americans deserve to have access to consistent, understandable information about the food they are eating, and this federal 
legislation would eliminate consumer uncertainty created by a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws, advance food safety, inform consumers and provide consistency in labeling. 

“The entire purpose of food labeling is to provide consumers throughout our nation with clear and consistent information. Congress must pass a bipartisan bill this year to ensure Americans continue to have access to consistent FDA-approved and science-based standards for food labeling.

“It’s important to know that this technology has been around for the past 20 years, and today, 70-80 percent of the foods we eat in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

“The overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMO ingredients are as safe as any other food. The Food and Drug Administration and major scientific and health organizations such as the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and World Health Organization all have found GMOs are safe for humans and positive for the environment. More than 2,000 studies show a clear consensus among the world’s leading scientific organizations that GMO ingredients are safe.

“A single federal labeling standard for non-GMO and GMOs that is based on science would ensure that America’s farmers and food manufacturers work under a uniform standard across all 50 states and that consumers receive uniform, consistent information on GMOs. The alternative – a patchwork of state and local food laws across the country with different labeling mandates and requirements – will create confusion, cause significant new costs for Americans, and lead to critical problems for our nation’s grocery supply chain.

“A federal law is needed that keeps the authority to set safe, reasonable and national labeling requirements regarding GMOs with U.S. government agencies that have decades of scientific and regulatory expertise in this area. The Grocery Manufacturers Association strongly supports this legislation, and urges the House and Senate to adopt this national standard for science-based food labeling.”

Based in Washington, D.C., the Grocery Manufacturers Association is the voice of more than 300 leading food, beverage and consumer product companies that sustain and enhance the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe. 

Founded in 1908, GMA is an active, vocal advocate for its member companies and a trusted source of information about the industry and the products consumers rely on and enjoy every day.  The association and its member companies are committed to meeting the needs of consumers through product innovation, responsible business practices and effective public policy solutions developed through a genuine partnership with policymakers and other stakeholders. 

In keeping with its founding principles, GMA helps its members produce safe products through a strong and ongoing commitment to scientific research, testing and evaluation and to providing consumers with the products, tools and information they need to achieve a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.  The food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry in the United States generates sales of $2.1 trillion annually, employs 14 million workers and contributes $1 trillion in added value to the economy every year.

***

American Farm Bureau Federation

Statement by Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau Federation, Regarding the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 25, 2015 – “State-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods, even though there is no credible evidence linking a food-safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods. These state labeling initiatives mask the benefits of biotechnology in food production and can lead to decreased food supplies. Creating a national labeling standard will give consumers the information they need while avoiding the unnecessary confusion and added cost of a patchwork of state laws.

“The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 would clarify the FDA as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program. We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) in reintroducing this bill.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but they shouldn’t be misinformed about what’s safe, or forced to pay higher prices unnecessarily. Thanks to innovation, farmers and ranchers have new and improved methods to increase their efficiency while preserving farm land for generations to come. Farmers benefit from choice and so should consumers.”

Genetically Engineered Papaya as Collateral Damage

Richard Ha writes:

Anthony Shelton, an international professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, has written a 12-part series on Hawaiian papaya (he  calls it the "tragic papaya"), which he calls "collateral damage in the global debate on biotechnology." 

I'm linking to the series here:

Hawaiian Papaya: Collateral Damage in the Global Debate on Biotechnology

Article placed online: March 19, 2015

Hawaii’s Big Island has banned or severely limited the farming of genetically engineered (GE or GM) crops, a papaya developed by a native Hawaiian to resist a devastating virus disease. The battle over GE crops and the law enacted in Hawaii is a microcosm of the global fight determining the future of GE crops.

This 12-part series by entomologist Anthony Shelton is the first comprehensive article about a genetically engineered crop, in this case, GE papaya in Hawaii. The story describes the virus disease outbreak, the development of virus-resistant GE papaya, small-scale farmers who adopted it, the emergence of the opposition and their takeover of the democratic process, the scientist who developed the technology, and the future of GE crops.

Click on chapters below to start reading the article:

1. Tropical hurricane ‘Anti-GE Papaya’ hits Hawaii

2. Storm victims, Ross Sibucao and other smallholder farmers

3. Enter Hawaiian papaya scientist, Dennis Gonsalves

4. BB guns, intellectual property and the road to commercialization 

5. When local politics trumps science and farmers

6. The organized but ill-informed opposition

7. The hurricane gathers force

8. Where’s the science?

9. GE facts, fiction and fear

10. Few win, many lose

11. Path of destruction and collateral damage

12. A ‘Rainbow’ ending?

13. Current update on the status of GM papaya in Hawaii

14. Photo Credits

An Interview & Also a Visit to a Co-op Finance Corporation

Richard Ha writes:

Henry Curtis of Ililani Media recently interviewed me about the energy co-op. He asked me, “Why a co-op?”

Here’s the interview:

Richard Ha owns Hamakua Springs Country Farms, served as Board Chairman of Ku`oko`a Inc., the entity which sought to buy the HECO Companies, a member of the business-based Big Island Community Coalition (BICC) which seeks lower electric rates, and a partner in the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) which was granted party status in the Public Utilities Commission’s HECO-NextEra's Merger proceeding. HIEC is represented in the docket by three McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP attorneys: David Minkin, Brian Hirai and Peter Hamasaki….

Read the rest

Also, a couple weeks ago I visited the national headquarters of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) in Virginia. There is a strong national association of 900 utility co-ops that exists to help its members, and it owns that finance company, the CFC, which has assets of $26 billion and is a non-profit, so it pays no taxes.

I met with the CFC's senior staff and briefed them about our attempt to be ready should an opportunity arise that allows us to present a credible offer to purchase Hawaii Electric Light (HELCO) and convert it to an energy cooperative.

They told me their resources are at our disposal.

It was very eye-opening to see that we are not alone. It hit me that ours would not be a small, stand-alone co-op, but one of 900 utility co-ops in the nation, with all the ancillary services that comes with that. The technical expertise we would be able to call upon is huge – exponentially greater than what we would have access to as a stand-alone co-op, out here in the middle of the Pacific.

Back on Dec 21st, I wrote about when a group of Big Island community people organized a briefing by David Bissell, the CEO of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) and Dennis Esaki, one of the original founders of KIUC.

Subsequently, we formed a steering committee to investigate the possibility of creating an energy cooperative for the Big Island. That was three months ago. Since then, we registered the co-op, obtained the services of a law firm, and asked the PUC to let us participate in the docket involving the merger request of NextEra and HEI/HECO. Our request was approved.

We have set up a website with information about our efforts, the folks involved, a press release, news articles, and a place for folks to sign up if they want to help us in our efforts.

A co-op is about all of us, not just a few of us. It’s run by a board of directors that is elected by its members. Each member has one vote. Excess revenues are returned to the members in proportion to their usage. 

We are not alone. 

This morning I saw that State Rep. Nicole Lowen just introduced HR105 expressing support of "further discussion of the possibility of local ownership and control of electric utilities."

I will write more as we move forward.

Planning Your Fruits & Vegetables

Richard Ha writes:

I’ve been meeting in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry advisory committee, which was reconstituted this past year. Twenty five of us were appointed to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on issues that are important to the nation’s fruit and vegetable growers.

Photo 1

We broke down into various subject committees last year and there were several meetings throughout the year to determine what the most important issues are at present. This meeting was to decide which issues we would send on to the Secretary of Agriculture and recommend for action.

Photo 2

Some of the issues are: labor availability, food safety, regionally adapted plant breeding programs, backlogs of container cargo at West Coast ports, citrus greening and appropriate timely reactions to important plant diseases, and GMO labeling.

Photo 3

Next on our agenda is to develop recommendations for each subject area.

This last photo was just for fun:

Photo 4