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In re Application of Maui Electric Co.

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20165
Nos. SCWC-15-0000640, (Haw. , 12/14/2017)

The Hawaii Supreme Court held that the “right to a clean and healthful environment” as set forth in the Hawaii Constitution gives citizens the right to be heard and protect their environmental interests in cases before the state Public Utilities Commission. A Hawaiian electric company sought the Commission’s approval of a 2015 agreement to purchase power for a electricity producer. An environmental group sought to intervene or be included in the process as it believed that the electricity producer relied too heavily on coal to meet production demands and endangered the health and safety of its members. The environmental group claimed it had a due process right to intervene in the proceedings under the state constitution, but the Commission decided that the group had no distinct interest in the proceedings and denied its request to intervene. The state’s highest court disagreed. Under the circumstances of this case, the group asserted a protectable property interest in a clean and healthful environment as defined by environmental regulations. In addition, the Commission’s decision adversely affected this interest. A due process hearing was therefore required given the importance of the interest, the risk of an erroneous deprivation, and the governmental interest s involved. The court also held that state law required the Commission to consider the “hidden and long-term costs of energy produced at the plant, including the potential for increased air pollution as a result of greenhouse gas emissions” in determining whether the agreement was prudent and in the public interest.