Description: Challenge to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s approval of a rate increase that allowed a utility to pass the costs of two liquid natural gas project on to its customers.
In re The Gas Co. dba Hawaii Gas
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 06/09/2020 Opinion Download PUC's decision and order vacated and case remanded to the PUC for further proceedings. Hawaiʻi Supreme Court Said Public Utilities Commission Improperly Limited Consideration of LNG Projects’ Greenhouse Gas Impacts. The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court vacated the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) approval of a rate increase that allowed a utility to pass the costs of two liquid natural gas (LNG) project on to its customers. The court determined that two nonprofit groups had standing to appeal the PUC’s determination because they had demonstrated they were “persons aggrieved” who had participated in the case. The court cited the groups’ allegations that their members were “deeply concerned” about the environmental and financial impacts of climate change, as well as climate change’s threats to native Hawaiian traditions and culture. The court further held that the PUC did not fulfill its statutory obligations under the State utilities law, which the court concluded did not limit the PUC’s consideration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to only those occurring within the state. The PUC therefore should have considered imported LNG’s impacts on out-of-state greenhouse gas emissions. The court also said the PUC failed to comply with statutory requirements when it “merely restat[ed], without substantiating, [the utility’s] representation that its LNG projects would decrease GHG emissions.” In addition, the court held that the PUC’s limitations on the participation of the nonprofit groups violated their due process rights because they possessed a “protected property interest in a clean and healthful environment” under the Hawaiʻi State Constitution, and the PUC had “limited its consideration of GHG emissions to those within the boundaries of the state, truncating Appellants’ property interest.” On the issues of whether the PUC had failed to fulfill constitutional obligations to protect one group’s native Hawaiian customary and traditional rights or to abide by the PUC’s affirmative obligations as a public trustee of the State’s natural resources, the court found that the record was not sufficiently developed to address these issues because the PUC “improperly curtailed” the nonprofit groups’ substantive participation. The court remanded to the PUC for further proceedings.