March 1984 Home   Newsletters

April 1984

May-June 1984

Annual Meeting
President's Message (Arlene Woo)
Resolutions on Arms Control in State Legislature
Transportation Director Explains Rationale for Bus Fare
LWV President Dot Ridings to Come to Hawaii
Another Win for League in its Battle to Keep Hawaii's Air Clean (Anna Hoover)
Convention '84 - May 13-17
Two Studies Proposed - Nat'l Security, Financing the Gov't
News Bits
Membership Update

Another Win for League in its Battle to Keep Hawaii's Air Clean


The League of Women Voters can once again claim a part in maintaining clean air in Hawaii. On January 20, 1984, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to require Hawaiian Electric Company to continue to burn low sulfur fuel at Kahe Power plant. The League, in a coalition with the American Lung Association and the Sierra Club, had intervened on behalf of the EPA. In rendering its opinion, the Court adopted most of the arguments put forward by Joseph Brecher, the attorney representing the coalition.

The Court in its opinion went out of its way to affirm EPA's legal interpretation of rules which are meant to reduce pollution levels below those mandated by national numerical standards because the standards (NAAQS)

  • "do not provide an adequate margin of safety on health impacts;

  • are based on a false assumption that no-effects threshold levels exist;

  • do not adequately protect against genetic mutation, birth defects, cancer, or diseases caused by long-term peak concentrations, and hazards due to derivative pollutants and to cumulative or synergistic impacts of various pollutants;

  • and do not adequately protect against crop damage and acid rain."

The Court insisted that the fuel switch requested by HECO is a "major modification " and thus must conform to the EPA rules of review before a change can be made.

By its decision, the Court thwarted an attempt by the utility to by-pass the full administrative proceedings (which would include a chance for public comments) to get a direct court decision. A dangerous precedent might have been set whereby EPA and its friends in industry could set up sweetheart litigation in which important matters would be determined without participation by public interest groups.


Since 1978, HECO has been burning low sulfur fuel at its Kahe Power Plant. The company has made more than a dozen efforts to relax the fuel requirement in order to burn cheaper high sulfur fuel. In 1982, for instance, HECO sought a Delayed Compliance Order allowing HECO to revert to high sulfur fuel while it "studied" the eventual use of sea water scrubbers at the facility. The League helped defeat that move by re-questing a public hearing and presenting our fears that the move would raise air pollution near the plant as well as set a dangerous national precedent of allowing a "clean" plant to pollute while the company studied the pollution and a new control technology.

In 1983, HECO asked to have the EPA permit under which it operates modified to allow the burning of high sulfur fuel. EPA notified HECO that it would have to submit further data because a fuel switch would be considered a "major modification" of the permit under the Clean Air Act rules and thus required "best available control technology" (BACT). It would have been difficult for HECO to do this review since it had been operating with low sulfur fuel, or BACT, for years. This would have made it hard to argue that continued operation at that level would be unavailable technology. Thus, it is felt that a BACT review would sink HECO's fuel switch proposal.

After learning of EPA's strict review requirement, HECO filed the petition for re-view in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. During the time the Court was reviewing this case, the coalition discovered and brought to the attention of the Court the fact that HECO had additional meteorological data for December, 1980 to November, 1981 which showed that burning higher sulfur fuel would result in air quality standard violations.

Anna Hoover

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