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A Level Higher Than Federal Standard Creates Disadvantage

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

It was interesting to read recently about fines that were levied by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the state, in this case, the department of transportation for violation of the Clean Water Act.

The problem is that the run off of water at certain Honolulu Airport facilities is being allowed to flow into storm drains. In this case, it was the fact that two sinks were plumbed to dump waste into storm drains instead of into the sewer system. The other citation involved a car rental agency allowing the run off from car washes to flow into storm drains which ultimately drain into the ocean.

What is ironic is that these violations are being allowed to occur by one state agency while another state agency – the health department – is charged with enforcing the state’s own laws regarding clean water.

It is ironic in the fact that the state statutes, in most cases, are far more stringent than the federal statutes regarding the same issues. In most cases, state lawmakers have decided that the federal statutes don’t go far enough especially in the case of environmental laws and have enacted much higher standards for Hawaii.

While opposing that kind of strategy in that it is intimidating to appear to be in opposition of a cleaner environment, one wonders if lawmakers recognize the downside of enacting more stringent standards than the national norm. Proponents of the stricter laws would argue that Hawaii is a “special place” that is deserving of more stringent standards. Certainly, there is no other place in the world with such natural beauty.

But should those standards be so high that it becomes impossible to live or work in Hawaii? Indeed, what seems to be happening as a result of such overly stringent laws is that the cost of living and doing business in the state is making Hawaii uncompetitive.

After all, why would someone want to move to Hawaii because the cost of living is so much more expensive? If it costs more to comply with the state standards which are higher than the federal requirements, why not just do business in a state where the federal standards are the prevailing law?

And lest you think that this course of action applies only in the area of environmental laws, you should know that the current efforts to establish guidelines for the privacy of personal mental and physical health information represent another effort to out do the federal standards.

At the federal level, standards are being drafted to protect the privacy of such personal information. While the issue has been under discussion at the local level for the past year or two, no agreement could be reached so a task force (yet another “task force”) was formed to draft a state statute. Discussion so far indicates the task force will recommend a standard that is much more strict than the federal proposal.

Again, it seems that Hawaii will make it more difficult to do business than in any other state if the local proposal is adopted. However, unlike the environmental laws which pertain to activities in Hawaii, the personal information issue will have an impact across state lines as insurance carriers, doctors, and other health care institutions provide care and coverage for patients or clients that may live in Hawaii but may need services in another state.

It seems that this effort to draft more stringent laws stems from a desire to be on the “cutting edge” of issues and new legislation. Unfortunately being on that “cutting edge” has allowed Hawaii to cut off its nose just to be the leader of the pack. Making it more difficult to do business in Hawaii because of these stricter laws has contributed to the onerous reputation Hawaii has earned as a result of these laws.

Again, the question must be asked: “At what price?” And again, the discovery is obvious, that Hawaii’s economy has suffered, jobs have been lost, and its products and services remain at a distinct uncompetitive level.

While these laws might protect Hawaii and its people, what good do they do if people end up having to move away just so they can survive?

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