Hawaii’s Environmental Courts were established by Act 218, Session Laws of Hawaii 2014, enacted as Hawaii Revised Statues Chapter 604A “Environmental Courts.”
Hawaii is only the second U.S. state to have a statewide environmental court. In 1990, Vermont founded the nation’s first statewide environmental court.
Hawaii’s Environmental Courts have broad jurisdiction, covering water, forests, streams, beaches, air, and mountains, along with terrestrial and marine life. (See Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 604A-2.)
Hawaii’s Environmental Courts began operations on July 1, 2015.
Environmental Court judges are designated in both the district and circuit courts throughout Hawaii, for both civil and criminal environmental cases, and hear other types of cases as well.
Parties may appeal rulings from the Environmental Courts in accordance with the Hawaii Rules of Appellate Procedure, through the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals, and/or to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Environmental law in the State of Hawaii is informed by several legal cornerstones, including the Constitution of the State of Hawaii, and the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (“HEPA”).
Article XI, Section 1, of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii (1978), provides: “For the benefit of present and future generations, the State and its political subdivisions shall conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural beauty and all natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals and energy sources, and shall promote the development and utilization of these resources in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the self-sufficiency of the State. All public natural resources are held in trust by the State for the benefit of the people.”
Article XI, Section 9 of the Hawai‘i Constitution (1978) states: “Each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including control of pollution and conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, through appropriate legal proceedings […].”
The Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (“HEPA”) (Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 343), was enacted in the early 1970s. Broadly speaking, it requires individuals and agencies to provide environmental assessments and/or environmental impact statements when an action may affect the environment. The legislature noted that “the quality of humanity’s environment is critical to humanity’s well-being, that humanity’s activities have broad and profound effects upon the interrelations of all components of the environment, and that an environmental review process will integrate the review of environmental concerns with existing planning processes of the State and counties and alert decision makers to significant environmental effects which may result from the implementation of certain actions.” In addition, the legislature found “that the process of reviewing environmental effects is desirable because environmental consciousness is enhanced, cooperation and coordination are encouraged, and public participation during the review process benefits all parties involved and society as a whole.”
Our Environmental Courts hear both civil and criminal cases. Numerous chapters of the Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”) are within the exclusive, original jurisdiction of the Environmental Courts. Just a partial listing includes:
- HRS Chapter 340E: Safe Drinking Water
- HRS Chapter 342B: Air Pollution Control
- HRS Chapter 342D: Water Pollution
- HRS Chapter 6D: Protection of Caves
- HRS Chapter 6E: Historic Preservation (iwi kūpuna, archaeological surveys)
- HRS Chapter 174: Water and Land Development
- HRS Chapter 183: Forest Reserves, Water Development, Zoning
- HRS Chapter 183B: Hawaiian Fishponds
- HRS Chapter 183D: Wildlife
- HRS Chapter 188: Fishing Rights and Regulations
- HRS Chapter 189: Commercial Fishing
- HRS Chapter 195D: Conservation of Aquatic Life, Wildlife, and Land Plants
- HRS Chapter 199: Conservation and Resources Enforcement Program
- HRS Chapter 343: Environmental Impact Statements
Numerous criminal offenses are heard in Environmental Court. Examples include:
- Taking more than one’s share of Ulua and Pāpio (bag limit 20).
- Taking undersized He‘e (octopus, tako, squid) (minimum size 1 pound).
- Entering state property where prohibited. For example, Sacred Falls on Oahu is closed, but many venture into the state park anyway.
- Hunting on private land.
- Taking or harassing a monk seal.
The resources noted below should help those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of current laws, rules, and agencies involved in the use and protection of the state’s resources.
- Hawaii Revised Statutes – Chapter 341 – Environmental Quality Control
- Hawaii Revised Statutes – Chapter 343 – Environmental Impact Statements
- Hawaii Revised Statutes – Chapter 344 – State of Hawaii Environmental Policy
- Hawaii State Department of Health – Environmental Health
- State of Hawaii – Department of Land and Natural Resources
- State of Hawaii – Department of Land and Natural Resources – Division of Forestry and Wildlife
- HEPA Citizens Guide – October 2014 (OEQC document, available online)
- Guide to the Implementation and Practice of the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (OEQC document, available online)
- Environmental Council
Download and print forms for your case.