Foam Fishing

By Cory Harden
A Hawai’i County Council member found polystyrene, popularly known as “Styrofoam,” inside a freshly caught fish. A Kona resident gathered over 4,500 signatures on her petition to ban single-use expanded polystyrene containers. Dozens of citizens testified at multiple meetings to support a County polystyrene ban, and few objected. The Kona Sheraton Resort uses over 100,000 non-polystyrene takeout containers a year, at minimal extra cost. Several hundred local
governments in the U.S. have banned polystyrene.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, four Council members (including the “foam fisher”) killed a bill that would have banned polystyrene take-out containers.

Two years ago, polystyrene measures also failed on Maui. In the State legislature, such bills have failed several times over the past three years.

Why ban polystyrene? According to the National Toxicology Program and National Research Council, the organic compound styrene can “reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and it can leach out of polystyrene food containers.

Polystyrene supporters talk about recycling, but New York City couldn’t figure out any cost-effective way to recycle single-use expanded polystyrene containers. (2)

Polystyrene waste “…breaks into little pieces and is nearly impossible to clean up.” (3)

Polystyrene “is one of the primary components of marine debris”. (3) It can poison animals or cause them to starve with a belly full of indigestible material.

Lots of polystyrene ends up in landfills. There it “remains intact for hundreds of years and releases pollutants…” (4) Organic material in the waste stream may be rendered unusable for anaerobic digestion or composting, after polystyrene foam waste breaks into tiny pieces and mixes in. (5)

There are alternatives to polystyrene: double-walled paper, recyclable polyproplylene, and containers made from potatoes, corn, bamboo, and wood. There’s mushroom packaging– put materials like cotton and rice hulls into molds, inject them with mushroom spores, and let them grow for a week or so. Last year the city of Seattle said the number of compostable packaging products jumped from about 70 to about 700 in four years. (4)

Back in Hawai’i County, ban supporters remain undaunted. They have compiled a list of Foam Free Vendors at


1 Will polystyrene cancer concerns prompt brands to change? The Guardian, August 27, 2014,, accessed February 2016.

2 New York City Bans Expanded Polystyrene Food Containers, Chemical & Engineering News, January 12, 2015,, accessed February 2016.

3 Serving Up a Better School Plate, Natural Resources Defense Council website,, accessed February 2016

4 New York restaurants scramble for alternatives after city bans foam packaging, The Guardian, January 22, 2015,, accessed February 2016

EPA Weighs In On Maui Sewage Case

By Steve Holmes

In an amicus brief filed in the Federal Court of Appeals 9th Circuit, EPA lawyers supported the decision by Judge Susan Mollway. Maui County appealed after losing to community groups including Sierra Club.

In the brief, the EPA agreed that point source pollutants entering groundwater that is hydrologically connected to the ocean fall under the Clean Water Act. Such discharges require what is called an NPDES permit. Maui County used injection wells near the coast without this permit and polluted coastal waters.

This ruling, if upheld, will have statewide ramifications. At Kealakehe, for instance, Hawai‘i County has dumped treated sewage into a disposal pit for 20 years. They have no NPDES permit for this. USGS studies show the discharges are reaching the ocean and causing harm. Sierra Club has asked EPA to step in with enforcement given their official legal position. A meeting with a deputy regional administrator has been scheduled for September in Hawai‘i as a result.

Another longstanding violation of the Clean Water Act exists in Na‘alehu and Pahala, where gang cesspools are still being used even though 2005 marked the federal deadline for their closure. No land has been secured for a treatment plant and Hawai‘i County plans to dispose of effluent in a way that would again go into groundwater that flows to the ocean. Sierra Club wants EPA to establish a consent decree that would get Hawai‘i County to do water reuse instead.

Chair’s Report 2016 Q2

By Nelson Ho
Despite geothermal energy being over 40 years old in Hawai’i, it continues to stumble into minefields as it attempts to expand its role as an energy resource. Far from encouraging “smart energy, smart growth, and smart businesses,” the land use policies of geothermal developers have created a gauntlet of outraged communities. Let’s help aspiring political leaders who listen to what the ‘aina is saying. Pay attention to your local political races and note the Sierra Club endorsements.

Three environmentally risky energy projects on Hawai’i Island just dropped off the radar.

By Cory Harden

First, Ormat, parent company of Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), withdrew from contract negotiations with Hawai’i Electric Light Company (HELCO). The contract would have been for a new geothermal plant to provide 25 more megawatts of geothermal energy on Hawai’i Island. HELCO was requiring an adjustable power output, but that’s difficult to do with geothermal powerplants.

Meanwhile, PGV faces a lawsuit over noisy all-night drilling last year, and neighbors have raised serious concerns for years over dangerous hydrogen sulfide emissions.  

Secondly, the University of Hawai’i pulled out of geothermal research projects on Hualalai in the face of shrinking funding, loss of staff, and a lawsuit over the need for state-mandated environmental assessment.

Lastly, HELCO expects to terminate a power purchase agreement with Hu Honua for failure to meet contract deadlines. Hu Honua planned to generate electricity (where?) by burning trees and other biomass. Sierra Club and neighbors voiced concerns about air and water quality, and about noisy trucks crowding neighborhood roads.

Still on the radar, unfortunately, is a bill before the State legislature to override County regulation of geothermal development.

Science Fair participants honored by Moku Loa Group

By Deborah Ward

Moku Loa Group recently recognized six outstanding students for research on Hawai‘i’s environment at the Hawai‘i District Science and Engineering Fair held Saturday, February 13, 2016 in Hilo.

In the Senior Research Division, Felix C. Peng received the Mae Mull Award for his project entitled “Isolation of a novel marine microorganism capable of aromatic hydrocarbon degradation in East Hawaii,” and Gabriel Low received the Mae Mull Award for his project entitled “Effect of the newly introduced brown anole on present lizard communities in Hilo.” Jared J. K. Goodwin received the Don Worsencroft Physical Science award for the project “Heavy metal contamination levels of the 1960 Hilo tsunami zone.”

In the Junior Research Division, Megan M. Nakamoto was recognized with the Wayne Gagne Award for her project entitled “Caterpillar cravings: A study of the food preferences of the Noctuidae Agrotis caterpillar on Mauna Kea.” Noe’ulakapalai Lindsey was recognized with the Ruth Lani Stemmermann award for her project “How do fresh water springs contribute to water quality?” Moku Loa Group also presented an award for Earth Science relating to Hawai‘I to Halia Buchal and Hiroki Soler for a project entitled “Filtering water with Moringa particles.”

The students each received certificates, membership, and contribution toward airfare to attend the state event. Through these awards, the Sierra Club members hope to honor scientists active in protecting our native ecosystems, and to encourage students to pursue scientific research in topics related to the Hawaiian environment. We express our thanks to our judges Jon Olsen, Debbie Ward and George Curtis.

Moku Loa Group welcomes contributions to its fund to support the Science Fair and other educational programs for students. Tax deductible donations may be made to Sierra Club Foundation (MLG) and mailed to the club c/o Moku Loa Group P.O.Box 1137 Hilo HI 96721. For more information, contact Deborah Ward at 769-2403.

Outings Report

By Diane Ware

Come celebrate the National Park Service Centennial with Moku Loa Group outings in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Kaloko, Pu’uhonua ‘o Honaunau, and Pu’ukohola Heiau. Most of the outings are interpretive and some will be led by Park rangers. We will also sponsor a program about the status, history, and planned release of the critically endangered Hawaiian ‘Alala in Hilo on the first Friday in May or June. For all events, check the Outings page for dates and details.

Annual Meeting at Wailoa State Park

By Nelson Ho

The Annual Moku Loa Group Winter Party and Member’s Meeting will be held Friday, December 4 at 6:00 pm. Please bring potluck dishes for the event, which will be held at the Wailoa State Park Pavilion nearest the park entrance. GMO speaker invited. A silent auction will be held, so please bring outdoor oriented and lightly used items with an upset price. Come earlier if you want to help decorate; contact Debbie Ward for details.


Garage Sale

Moku Loa Group will hold a garage sale, tentatively set for Sunday, December 6 at Maku’u Farmers Market just past Ainaloa Subdivision on the way to Pahoa town. Contact Jim Buck, treasurer, for details, volunteering, and donations. Email:

Hawaii County Goes Green with Biodiesel

By Steve Holmes

Using recycled vegetable oil and grease trap waste, Pacific Biodiesel has partnered with Hawaii County to use a 20% blend for its fleet vehicles including the Hele-On buses. With a new refinery in Keaau, Pacific Biodiesel will help create local jobs.

Biodiesel reduces fleet maintenance costs through increased lubricity and improves air emissions as well. The City & County of Honolulu completed a similar conversion over ten years ago with great success.

Recycling keeps these wastes out of landfills and sewer lines where they cause environmental problems. Pacific Biodiesel picks up the waste at restaurants, saving the businesses money and preventing illegal dumping into streams or vacant land.


Supreme Court Deliberates Mauna Kea Issues

By Debbie Ward

During the August 27 oral arguments regarding the Conservation District Use Permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope, justices rebuked DLNR for approving construction prior to holding a contested case hearing, and they questioned the board’s reasoning that the additional “incremental” damage could be mitigated, given that the FEIS found that “past construction of these observatories has had cumulative impacts that are substantial, significant and adverse.” The court has stayed the permit until its final order is issued.