Monday, August 25, 2014

Federal court rules State, not county, can regulate pesticides and GMOs

Kaua’i’s controversial Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 was slapped down today by Federal Magistrate Barry M. Kurren.

The County may not enforce the law

And while the judge’s ruling is complex, the message is simple.

The county can’t regulate pesticides or genetically modified crops, because the state already has global” and “comprehensive” regulatory mechanisms in place.

The County, thus, is pre-empted from enacting its own regulatory scheme.

The court case was brought after a messy little drama, in which the County Council passed Bill 2491 to regulate pesticides and GMOs in Kaua`i County, and then the mayor vetoed the bill, and then the County Council filled an empty Council seat in order to have enough votes to override the veto, and then the Council did override the veto by a 5-2 vote. 

That meant the ordinance could take effect. But the new ordinance was immediately appealed by Syngenta Seeds, Syngenta Hawaii, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Agrigenetics and BASF Plant Science. 

Those seed companies sued Kauai County, since was required to enforce 960. Intervenors in the action included Ka Makani Ho`opono, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America and Surfrider Foundation, all of whom supported 960.

There were more than a dozen claims, but two ended up being enough to kill Ordinance 960.

“The Court’s ruling simply recognizes that the State of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the county." 

In short: The state already comprehensively regulates pesticides, so the county can't. And the state already comprehensively regulates dangerous weeds and restricted plans, to the county can't. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hanabusa's chances of U.S. Senate victory: Slim, slimmer and gone.

It remains mathematically possible for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to pull out a victory against U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz. But realistically, not so much.

Indeed, based on their campaigns' performance since Saturday night, it may be more likely that Schatz increases his lead when the votes are counted in two Big island storm-ravaged communities. More on that further down in this piece.

After Saturday’s Primary Election, Schatz leads Hanabusa by 1,635 votes, 113,800 to 112,165. Among the votes cast for the two of them, Schatz leads by a razor thin 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent—an eight-tenths of a percent difference.

But that statewide percentage number doesn’t matter.

The entire election for Dan Inouye’s U.S. Senate seat comes down to a 1,635-vote margin, and whether the Puna residents in Districts 4-01 and 4-02, whose polls could not open Saturday and who have not yet voted, will favor Hanabusa by more than that.

How likely is that?

There are 8,269 registered voters in those two rural districts, where massive fallen albizia trees have shut down roads and power and devastated the community. The votes of 1,448 have already been counted, leaving 6,821.

The residents from both precincts are invited to vote Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Keoneopoko Elementary School. Government officials say they expect to have the roads open in time.

When it’s over, there’s a good chance that these two little Puna districts will have the highest voter turnout in the state—because suddenly, their votes really matter. Whichever candidate wins, it will be a candidate for whom Puna is on the map. The people of Puna will have had face time with a likely U.S. Senator, something few of us get.

If 100 percent of the remaining voters vote in the Democratic Primary, for Hanabusa to win, she’ll need to win by a margin of 4,228 to 2,593 or 62 percent to 38 percent.

But it won’t be 100 percent. A few folks won’t show up to vote. There will be a couple of spoiled ballots. A couple of folks will vote Republican, although most Republicans will switch and vote the Democratic side of the ballot, since the Republican race for Senate is irrevocably won by Cam Cavasso and there aren’t any dogfights left in any other party.

Let’s assume that 80 percent of the potential voters actually cast Democratic ballots, call it 5,456 voters. That would be near double the statewide percentage turnout. Hanabusa would need 3,545 to get even. That’s 65 percent of the vote.

She would need two votes to every one of Schatz’ votes.

If only 50 percent come out--close to statewide voter turnout averages--she'll need three votes for every one for Schatz.

It is still theoretically possible for Colleen Hanabusa to defeat Brian Schatz, to get far, far more votes than he does. That presumes that  Hanabusa were running a tight, smart campaign targeted at the struggling Puna population.

But she’s not.

Three days before the special election, she’s already acting like she’s lost.

Three days before the vote, she is threatening lawsuits instead of campaigning. Her office released this statement: “Our campaign is currently reviewing all legal options at this time.”

Three days before the special election, she is laying the groundwork to challenge the election: “It is unrealistic to think people struggling to find basic necessities and get out of their homes will have the ability to go to the polls Friday.”

So, if voters do come out to vote in high numbers, will she drop her consideration of a challenge? Likely not, because the courthouse is probably the only chance Colleen Hanabusa has. She needs to force a revote, force a recount, or hope that someone finds a misplaced stack of a couple of thousand Hanabusa ballots in some corner.

And as for the issue of swaying public opinion in her favor, the post-election news reports are catastrophic for Hanabusa.

There are images of Schatz on the ground, personally hauling bottled water to stranded residents refusing to talk to reporters, and notably not wearing a campaign shirt.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Hanabusa was flying overhead in a helicopter, and later toured the area by car and on foot, and issuing media statements that election officials are screwing up.

Which candidate are voters more likely to remember on Friday? 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kaua`i Primary reveals a bluish shade of purple.

An analysis of Kaua`i’s primary election results shows that the island is a far bluer shade of purple than most folks expected.

The colors refer to the shirts worn at the rallies around the anti-GMO legislation before the County Council, Bill 2491.

Those seeking to drive Kaua`i’s seed and coffee companies either into compliance or off the island wore red. Those supporting the seed and coffee firms wore blue.

People trying to bring the battling sides together, or who favored a little of this and a little of that, wore purple. Some may have also worn purple out of patriotism, as purple is the color associated with Kaua`i in island festivals.

Kaua`i voters in the Primary Election gave support to its industrial farming interests, strongly backing candidates who oppose aggressive pesticide and genetically modified crop regulation.

Political pundits have suggested that the results also show the island’s movement in the direction of supporting a more aggressive stance against industrial farming. That is certainly true, but it will take another election cycle to determine whether the reds have static or still-growing support.

A bespoke analysis of election results found that the island is quite supportive of its big farming supporters. Here are three big takeaways.

As a whole, the island voted blue, 62 percent blue.

Fourteen of the island’s 16 precincts voted blue.

Of the three districts, the West Side District 16 voted 70 percent blue, central District 15 voted two-thirds blue, and the East-North district was split, 50.5 percent red, 49.5 percent blue.

We conducted our analysis this way:

Mayor Bernard Carvalho and Councilman Mel Rapozo have the most serious blue credentials on the island. Rapozo on the Council led the unsuccessful battle to stop 2491. Carvalho vetoed 2491.

And you can’t get better red credentials than those of Dustin Barca, a pro-2491 activist and mayoral challenger, and Councilman Gary Hooser, who successfully shepherded 2491 through the Council.

We added Carvalho’s and Rapozo’s votes in each precinct, and compared them to the combined votes of Barca and Hooser. We divided the blue vote by the combined vote to get the percentage of blue (the Carvalho-Rapozo vote) in the mix.

The island clearly fades from pretty red on the North Shore to very blue on the west side. But while Barca and Hooser clearly won Hanalei and Kilauea, they did not win by nearly as much as the Carvalho-Hooser contingent won the West Side. Red took the north shore by two-thirds, but Blue took the West side by three-quarters.

Here are the blue percentages by polling place and precinct number:

Hanalei  14-01:  34%
Kilauea 14-02:  32%
Anahola 14-03:  53%
Kapaa Elementary 14-04:  59%
Kapaa NbrhdCtr 14-05:  66%
Kapaa MiddleSchool 15-01:  55%
King Kaumuali`i 15-02:  73%
Wilcox School 15-03:  77%
Chiefess Kamakahelei 15-04:  73%
Koloa Elementary 15-05:  61%
Koloa NbrhdCtr 16-01:  61%
Kalaheo 16-02: 66%
Hanapepe 16-03:  77%
Waimea 16-04:  73%
Kekaha 16-05:  77%
Niihau 16-06:  75%

The bluest community of all was Kekaha, the missile range and seed corn industry’s territory, where Carvalho and Rapozo pulled in 1268 votes to Barca and Hooser’s 376.

The reddest of all was in the organic farming and retirement community of Kilauea, where Barca and Hooser pulled 1354 votes to Carvalho and Rapozo’s 686.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kaua`i anti-GMO? You wouldn't know it from the primary election results.

There’s no better poll than an election.

There can be some trickiness in figuring out what the numbers mean, but on Kaua`i this year, the primary election results were pretty plain. The community's comfort zone is offended by the anti-seed company, anti-GMO, aggressive pesticide regulation movement.

Several races were clear bellwethers on this issue.

One is the mayor’s race. 

Dustin Barca helped lead the anti-GMO campaigns of 2013 and 2014. He was a regular figure in the vanguard, in his black shirt, shorts and boots. He wants Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, Pioneer and BASF heavily regulated and preferably gone. By contrast the ebullient, aloha-shirted Mayor Bernard Carvalho vetoed Bill 2491, which established strict regulations on big agriculture and its pesticide and crop choices. In doing so he became the enemy of the anti-GMO movement.

Barca ran a well-funded, professional campaign. Lots of signs, appearances at public events, robo-calling, and polling. He’ll get another shot in the General Election, but he managed just 5,957 votes to Carvalho’s 11,151. If you take away the small number of votes for two other candidates and the blank votes and overvotes, Barca picked up 35 percent of the votes and Carvalho 65 percent.

(Carvalho’s lead was dominant, certainly, although not as dominant as four years ago, when running against Diana LaBedz, Carvalho had 83 percent. LaBedz had a low-key underfunded campaign, but it was a precursor to today’s battles. She was against genetically modified mono-crops long before it became a cause célèbre.)

Next example: Take the 15th District State House Democratic Primary, where the same issue became one of the hallmarks of the battle between Dylan Hooser and incumbent Jimmy Tokioka. Hooser has been active in the anti-GMO movement, while Tokioka has been characterized as a supporter of the big ag status quo.

Tokioka’s tally of 3,487 and Hooser’s 1,656, allows the assumption that the anti-GMO vote was 32 percent, while Tokioka held a strong 68 percent. Two years ago, when GM technology was less of an issue and Tokioka was unopposed, he got 71 percent. Not much of a drop this year, despite the furor.

Finally there is the County Council non-partisan primary. There, three candidates who associate themselves with farming rights and frugal budgeting--Mel Rapozo, Ross Kagawa and Arryl Kaneshiro--handily led the pack of 20 candidates. 

That's significant. Rapozo and Kagawa ran 4th and 5th in both the 2012 primary and general. Both expressed surprise on election night at their powerful showings. And it is notable that Kaneshiro, a first-time candidate with similar views, is in the top three with them.

The next two candidates are incumbents who voted for Bill 2491, but have hardly been its strongest advocates: JoAnn Yukimura and Jay Furfaro.

To find the first unapologetic opponents of seed research companies, you need to go down to 6th and 7th place, Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum. And it’s a big spread. Rapozo and Kagawa pulled down more than 9,000 votes apiece. Hooser picked up 6,642 and Bynum 5,839.

If that were the final election result, it would set up a divided County Council, with an edge for the farming rights folks. But in the General Election, a few positions can change and one or two regularly do change. Five candidates are within 1,500 votes of 7th place Bynum and four are within 2,000 votes of 6th place Hooser. Those candidates are roughly split between pro and anti-GMO folks, so the future balance of the Council is still not entirely clear.

The upshot of this election is a bit of a community wakeup call. 

If you’d been reading the papers, watching Facebook and listening at community meetings for the past year, you might think that the anti-GMO movement was powerful wave and a slam-dunk for victory. 

On reflection, not so much. 

Somebody forgot to ask the people, and if there’s no better poll than the actual election, the people have now spoken quite clearly. They’re not quite as ready for radical change as the public discourse might suggest.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Pacific tradewinds enhanced by Atlantic warming

In our mid-Pacific isolation, it can be hard to understand how globally connected things are.
Case in point: Our tradewinds have increased in strength thanks to the warming of the Atlantic Ocean.

An August 3, 2014,  paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, by a team of Hawai`i and Australia researchers, says there are lots of other interconnections, too.

That Atlantic warming is also associated with drought in California, sea level rise in the Western Pacific, and cooling of parts of the Pacific.

"We were surprised to find that the main cause of the Pacific wind, temperature, and sea level trends over the past 20 years lies in the Atlantic Ocean," said University of New South Wales researcher Shayne McGregor.

Here’s how it works. The Atlantic ocean has warmed at the surface, partly due to global climate change and greenhouse gas. The warm water causes the air above it to warm and rise. That creates low pressure in the tropical Atlantic atmosphere. All that rising air comes down again as it cools, but this time over the eastern equatorial Pacific, where it creates high pressure. The difference between the low and high pressure systems creates stronger tradewinds.

Co-author Axel Timmermann, of the University of Hawai`i International Pacific Research Center expands: 

"Stronger trade winds in the equatorial Pacific also increase the upwelling of cold waters to the surface. The resulting near-surface cooling in the eastern Pacific amplifies the Atlantic–Pacific pressure seesaw, thus further intensifying the trade winds." 

That new cooling in the Pacific has likely caused a kind of pause in rising global temperatures, something that was previously unexplained in climate models, Timmermann said. 

"It turns out that the current generation of climate models underestimates the extent of the Atlantic–Pacific coupling, which means that they cannot properly capture the observed eastern Pacific cooling, which has contributed significantly to the leveling off, or the hiatus, in global warming."

"Our study documents that some of the largest tropical and subtropical climate trends of the past 20 years are all linked: Strengthening of the Pacific trade winds, acceleration of sea level rise in the western Pacific, eastern Pacific surface cooling, the global warming hiatus, and even the massive droughts in California," said co-author Malte Stuecker from the University of Hawaii Meteorology Department.

But it is unlikely to last. The researchers said an El Nino, like the one now developing in the Pacific, could reset the system.

Citation: Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming by Shayne McGregor, Axel Timmermann, Malte F. Stuecker, Matthew H. England, Mark Merrifield, Fei-Fei Jin & Yoshimitsu Chikamoto published in Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/nclimate2330

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014