Description: Case challenging public utilities commission's approval of power purchase agreement and challenging denial of environmental group's requests to intervene or participate.
In re Maui Electric Co.
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 12/14/2017 Opinion Download Dissenting opinion issued. 12/14/2017 Opinion Download Opinion issued vacating order granting motion to dismiss and holding that due process hearing was required. In Split Opinion, Hawai‘i Supreme Court Ruled That Due Process Hearing Was Required to Protect Right to Clean and Healthful Environment by Considering Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Utility’s Power Purchase Agreement. In a case concerning whether Sierra Club had a right to participate in proceedings before the Hawai‘i Public Utility Commission (Commission) concerning an electric utility company’s application for approval of a power purchase agreement between the utility and an electricity producer, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled that Sierra Club and its members had asserted a property interest in a clean and healthful environment that was protectable under the Hawai‘i Constitution’s due process clause. The electricity producer had produced electricity at a bagasse-fired power plant that also burned other fuels including coal and petroleum. (Bagasse is a residue produced from sugar cane processing.) The power purchase agreement sought to restate, amend, and extend an existing agreement; the Commission approved it in 2015 after denying Sierra Club’s requests to intervene or participate in the proceedings. Although the plant closed after the Commission approved the agreement, the Supreme Court said Sierra Club’s claim fell within the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine because “[r]esolution of the issue may affect similarly situated parties who in the future seek to assert their right to a clean and healthful environment in proceedings before agencies and other governmental bodies.” On the merits, the Supreme Court concluded that the Hawai‘i Constitution established a substantive right to a clean and healthful environment and that the scope of that interest was defined by “existing law relating to environmental quality,” which the court said included statutory provisions requiring the Commission to “consider the need to reduce the State’s reliance on fossil fuels through energy efficiency and increased renewable energy generation” and to “explicitly consider” the effects the State’s reliance on fossil fuels would have on greenhouse gas emissions. The court concluded that these laws defined the right to a clean and healthful environment by requiring “that express consideration be given to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the decision-making of the Commission.” The court concluded that the utility’s application raised issues that directly affected Sierra Club’s members’ right to a clean and healthful environment and that the Commission’s approval of the power purchase agreement adversely affected the members’ interests. A due process hearing therefore was required to consider the impacts of approving the agreement on the members’ right to a clean and healthful environment, “including the release of harmful greenhouse gases” by the power plant. Two justices dissented, with the dissenting opinion stating that the majority’s decision “expands the limits of due process in ways that could have unintended consequences.”