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Representative David A. Tarnas' Remarks on House Bill 2024, Relating to Mauna Kea

April 26, 2022




Mahalo to the Senate for your diligent work on this measure. With your indulgence, I wish to take some time to explain the House position on the Mauna Kea bill and describe for the Conference Committee and the public a proposed Conference Draft of the bill for your consideration.

As we began to engage in serious policy discussions on the management framework for Mauna Kea, it was clear to me that the primary focus should be on what is best for Mauna Kea itself. As an environmental planner for my entire career in Hawai‘i, I recognize that environmental stewardship is an important public and personal responsibility. A healthy environment supports our quality of life. In my work on this bill, I have two main objectives for a new management framework for Mauna Kea:

  • Respect our indigenous people by providing a substantive voice for Native Hawaiians in the management decisions for Mauna Kea.

  • Ensure a stable supportive future for astronomy on Mauna Kea through a community-based mutual stewardship model.

Mauna Kea is of paramount importance to our community, including Native Hawaiians, non-Hawaiians, cultural practitioners, scientists, artists, hikers, photographers, star-gazers, and so many more. Mauna Kea has significant environmental and cultural importance.

Mauna Kea is the best place on the planet for astronomy facilities because of a combination of environmental factors, including our mid-Pacific location far from the continent, clear dark skies, and stable temperature, wind and humidity conditions.

Recognizing this competitive advantage for astronomy, the Hawai‘i State Government has invested significant resources through state agencies and the University of Hawai‘i to provide road access, communication and data networks, support facilities, administrative services, and resource management. Over the last fifty years, long term leases have provided the security for U.S. and international organizations to invest billions in constructing and operating observatories on Mauna Kea. Today, astronomy has a total economic impact to the State of approximately $220 million annually, generates about 1,300 jobs statewide, and provides significant STEM education and workforce development opportunities for our community.

I represent the district which includes the town of Waimea where there are two headquarters of major observatories operating on Mauna Kea. My constituents, including Native Hawaiians and those who are not of Hawaiian ancestry, have made their voices known, saying, "we support astronomy that is done with respect for the environment and Native Hawaiian cultural values, and provides education and employment opportunities to Hawai‘i's people."

The Maunakea Observatories have also made their views known by saying, "We strongly believe there is a vibrant and sustainable future for astronomy on Maunakea – a future based on a community model of astronomy in which relationships and partnerships between the community and astronomy thrive, upheld by the values of respect, collaboration, and inclusion. The observatories are permitted by the State to conduct activities on Maunakea lands – public lands that are important to multiple stakeholders and of great cultural importance to the Hawaiian community. We are grateful for our privilege of observing the universe on Maunakea."

The Maunakea Observatories' attitude of gratitude, respect for the community, and recognition of the essential role of indigenous peoples is consistent with the priorities outlined in Astro2020 Decadal Survey that guides the future of astronomy research in the U.S. The concluding statement in Astro2020 makes this clear: "NSF, NASA, DOE, facility managing organizations, project consortia, individual institutions, and other stakeholders can work to build partnerships with indigenous and local communities that are more functional and sustained through a Community Astronomy approach, and by increasing the modes of engagement and funding for: (i) meaningful, mutually beneficial partnerships with Indigenous and local communities, (ii) culturally supported pathways for the inclusion of Indigenous members within the profession, and (iii) true sustainability, preservation, and restoration of sites."

The Maunakea Observatories have stated, "It is through the lens of this framework that we remain deeply committed to ensuring the local and native Hawaiian community is included as we work together in forging a positive future for Maunakea…. We seek a community-based mutual stewardship model which will allow astronomy to thrive alongside other interests, sensitive to the needs of the local community."

Based on all this, it was clear to the State House that the status quo was no longer acceptable. We felt the legislature had a responsibility to grapple with this very difficult and contentious issue and develop an alternative management framework for Mauna Kea. Our legislative purpose was not to criticize the University of Hawai‘i and its management, but rather to learn from the UH experience and recommend a management framework that builds on these lessons.

The State House formed the Mauna Kea Working Group to engage with numerous representatives of the Native Hawaiian community who had demonstrated a sincere commitment to the stewardship kuleana of Maunakea. The dialog and deliberations of the Mauna Kea Working Group were done with respect and humility. We learned a lot from each other and recognized we shared common values and a sense of responsibility for careful stewardship of Mauna Kea.

The Mauna Kea Working Group report served as the basis for drafting HB 2024. When the House passed HB 2024 HD1, it contained key elements that we believed needed to be part of this new management framework. This included the inclusion of the Kumu Kanawai, a set of statements which describe the Native Hawaiian cultural worldview and values relevant to the stewardship of Mauna Kea. The bill established an independent land management authority guided by a management board of members who are mostly residents of Hawai‘i Island and several who are specifically identified as Native Hawaiians. The bill laid out a transition period and a financing model for the new authority. The bill also provided guidance to this management authority in terms of its geographic jurisdiction, its authority, the ability to limit commercial and recreational activities, and limit the number of observatories on the summit. I would note that this limitation on the number of observatories is consistent with the current UH Master Plan and Management Plan and was not intended to restrict the future operations of the Maunakea Observatories.

As the bill crossed over to the Senate, the House recognized that the bill was still a work in progress. I am grateful the Senate took this bill and continued working on it with the Senate Draft 1, and then Senate Draft 2. It is always easier to kill a bill rather than do the hard work of figuring out the best policy solution to address a long-standing contentious issue. Mahalo to the Senate for choosing to do the hard work.

The State House acknowledges that in the Senate drafts of the bill, the management role of UH was been strengthened, the Maunakea Observatories have a role on the governance board, and there is a clear statement that astronomy is a policy of the State. There were also significant changes to the management jurisdiction and responsibilities, the transition period, financing model, and more.

Over the last couple weeks, House and Senate conferees analyzed the House version and the Senate version of the bill and discussed potential ideas to include in a Conference Draft. I appreciate your leadership, Chair, in these discussions.

Today, I would like to present to you a proposed Conference Draft that balances the interests of the community, Native Hawaiians, the observatories, and the mauna itself.

The Authority created by this bill would be attached to DLNR with its headquarters at UH Hilo ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center or some other facility on Hawai‘i Island. The bill articulates that ecological protection, environmental sustainability, natural resources, cultural practice, education, and science would all be fostered in a mutual stewardship paradigm.

In the Conference Draft bill, there is a five-year transition period during which UH handles day-to-day operations while the new Authority develops plans for stewardship, financial support, leasing process, limitations on the number of observatories, and a moratorium on new leases during the transition. The Authority recommends establishing a Mauna Kea Reserve on some of the land and submits regular reports to the legislature.

After the five-year transition, the Authority assumes the powers and responsibilities of DLNR [Department of Land and Natural Resources] and LUC [Land Use Commission] over the lands in the Maunakea Reserve. The Authority assumes the position of UH relative to the master lease, takes over day-to-day management, and would have the authority to assign leases. All current leases would still be in effect until 2033. The UH is released from legal obligations, except for any previous lawsuits.

Decommissioning the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory and Hoku Kea are still in the bill, but the Authority is responsible for developing any other limitations on observatories.

The statement about astronomy as a policy of the State is modified in the Conference Draft to add that it be consistent with the mutual stewardship paradigm. In other words, we are not putting astronomy above other uses, but it shows that this bill is not about "killing astronomy."

The practice of the observatories granting UH a certain amount of observing time, which is a very valuable commodity, will continue to be part of future leases. The bill sets a minimum floor of 7% of viewing time going to UH with a priority for research programs that involve Hawai‘i students (including UH, public schools and Hawaiian language schools) and projects that collaborate with Hawaiian culture and cultural practitioners.

The Conference Draft of the bill includes the operating principles of mauna aloha, ‘ōpū kupuna and holomua ‘oi kelakela; but it does not include articulation of the Kumu Kānāwai. However, the Authority could certainly incorporate these Kumu Kānāwai principles into its own rules and operational plans.

The bill pushes back the audit to 2033 and removes the stipulation that a failed audit would result in the control reverting to the UH.

In the Conference Draft of the bill, the board members would be appointed by the Governor in the first year and confirmed by the Senate. The composition of the management board includes seats for the Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Hawaii County Mayor, Chair of the UH Board of Regents, an individual with ‘aina (land) resource management expertise and specific experience with Hawai‘i Island-based management, an individual with expertise in p-12 public education, a representative of Maunakea Observatories, an individual with business and finance expertise and management experience, an individual who is a lineal descendant of a practitioner of Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practice associated with Mauna Kea, an individual who is a recognized practitioner of Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices, and two members selected by the Governor from a list submitted by the House Speaker and Senate President.

Mahalo for your patience to listen to my comments. I just wanted to take this opportunity to express my thoughts about this Conference Draft of the Mauna Kea bill to make these legislative deliberations transparent to the public.



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