First lawsuit filed to Hawaii’s new environmental court

July 13, 2015

Just a couple weeks ago, the state of Hawaii opened its first Environmental Court, and they've already been presented with their first lawsuit.

The suit, filed by the creatively named Stop Cane Burning organization, is an attempt by environmental activists to shut down Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar's practice of burning sugarcane during harvesting season. 

As stated by the organization's press release, "On July 1 Stop Cane Burning filed suit against the Hawaii Department of Health (DoH) alleging that the regulatory system which allows open air agricultural burning is unconstitutional."

HC&C defended their practices by stating that their organization employs 800 people across Maui, and that, while there are ways to harvest sugarcane that don't require it to be burned in the fields, their current method is far more efficient and cost-effective.

Stop Cane Burning says that their suit comes from the state's attempts back in the early 1970s to ban the practice. "In 1971," they said, "the DoH gave sugar plantations three years to end cane burning," citing the public health risk created by the smoke. They went on to ban backyard burning across the Hawaiian islands in 2012.   

State representative Kaniela Ing recently spoke on the subject of the lawsuit, saying that it serves as "a reminder to policymakers of what happens when we ignore an issue for too long." He acknowledged that cane burning and the plantation lifestyle have been Maui traditions for decades, but ultimately argued that the practice poses a health risk, and that, since HC&C is currently running an $11 million deficit, it's probably time for a change.

To avoid entanglements like this, large companies should speak to environmental consultants who can ensure rules and standards are being followed without hindering business processes.