Sep 13

“Science Versus Politics in Hawaii”

“Will scientific facts prevail, or will political force reign supreme?”

By Pam Davis, Animal Advocate Inc. (2010)

The protections which have been put into place to protect our precious and irreplaceable natural resources are being unraveled and systematically destroyed by our own State government, namely, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (“DLNR”) and its Chairperson Laura Thielen, under the administration of Governor Linda Lingle.  The Administrator of the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources (“DAR”) has been suspended, and Thielen would like him fired for recommending that stream flow be restored on Maui, in order to benefit native aquatic life.   Dr. Polhemus did not give in to the political influences pushed by “big business,” including the Maui Irrigation Company and Alexander & Baldwin, and by the Lingle administration. You see, the Lingle administration and the corporate interests wanted the stream to be diverted for their own purposes, which would leave the animals and the environment in jeopardy.

An endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

Thus, the problems faced by Dr. Polhemus as a result of his scientific recommendations appear to be pure political retaliation. Because DLNR is one of the largest and most important departments in our State government, and because DLNR is tasked with the management and protection of Hawaii’s natural resources, citizens should be concerned about what is happening.   The effectiveness of DLNR directly affects the health and sustainability of our rivers, streams, ocean, and all of the fish and other animals who live there, including the endangered birds, the Hawaiian monk seal, the whales and the turtles, and many other animals (whether they are on the endangered species list or not). We are concerned about the health of the environment, and we are especially concerned about actions by the State government which have a negative effect on protections for the environment and its animals.  We realize that laws are only as good as those who enforce them.  That is why corruption and mismanagement by the DLNR, which cause harm to our resources, is of concern to us and should be of concern to all Hawaii citizens.

Dr. Dan Polhemus

For example, Dr. Dan Polhemus, the Administrator of the DAR is now gone.   If you do a Google search, you will find that in addition to being the DAR Administrator, Dr. Polhemus has been conducting scientific research in the Pacific region for more than 20 years.  He has authored over 120 scientific papers and several books, and is a “world authority on the taxonomy and systematics” of aquatic species.Dr. Polhemus was named the Administrator of the DAR in 2005. However, he is now being punished by Laura Thielen because he made decisions based on science rather than doing what is “politically correct.”  Apparently, doing your job leads to dismissal in the Lingle administration.  It appears to us that Dr. Polhemus is being “railroaded” by Thielen and Lingle, simply for doing his job as it should be done.

There are many problems which have been reported within the DLNR, including the fact that the State Historic Preservation Division (“SHPD”) is now basically in shambles.  This has been widely documented in the newspapers.  The SHPD is now massively in the red, and sources tell us that this mess goes right to the top, that is, squarely in the lap of Chairperson Laura Thielen.There are also serious problems within the DLNR’s Land Division.  And, sources say that the State’s co-managers for both the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Monument have left, due to difficulties in working with Thielen.  They have taken jobs with NOAA and the Corps of Engineers, respectively.  But for now, we will focus on the removal and impending firing of the DAR Administrator, and what this means for the environment, the animals, and for all of us.

Consider the following information:· The “pretense” of Dr. Polhemus’ dismissal was that he did a poor job on an evaluation of whether a set of permits issued for a project to control invasive marine algae in Maunalua Bay met the requirements of Chapter 343, Hawaii Revised Statutes (our environmental laws).  Most of the permits had been issued by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (“DOFAW”) for work in the Paiko Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary.   Although DAR has limited expertise in this area, they were given the responsibility.  Dr. Polhemus consulted with the DOFAW administrator, the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (“OCCL”), and his own permit staff, and concluded that the permits fell within existing exemption classes under Chapter 343.  The Attorney General’s office was also contacted, but did not readily express any concerns.  Director Laura Thielen demanded a quick response, and Dr. Polhemus provided a draft letter indicating that the Paiko permits appeared to have been issued appropriately.  Less than a half hour after the draft letter was sent to Thielen, the Attorney General’s office finally submitted some concerns, saying they wanted to look at the matter further.   The draft letter was never sent. However, the affair was blown up as a gross case of incompetence on the part of Dr. Polhemus.  To date, all of the permits for the Paiko Lagoon work remain in effect, and none have been rescinded.

Paiko Lagoon

Therefore, it appears that the exemption classes determined by Dr. Polhemus were in fact sufficient.  Will Dr. Polhemus be fired for providing a correct assessment?  From the moment Dr. Polhemus and DAR submitted their recommendation on the East Maui in-stream flows, Dr. Polhemus, as DAR administrator, was on the Lingle administration’s “hit list.”  Now the “hit” has finally come, and has apparently been based upon trumped up charges related to Paiko Lagoon.  We believe the public is smart enough to be able to separate the pretenses for this punishment from the real, underlying reasons. We can see that the interests of big business are more important to the Lingle administration than the health and protection of our natural resources.  This is simply unacceptable.

Sources tell us that, on December 22, 2009, Dr. Polhemus was summoned to Laura Thielen’s office and given a letter charging him with Dereliction of Duty, and placing him on suspension without pay for 10 working days.  The basis of the charge was that Dr. Polhemus failed to meet his objective to provide stream studies and additional information to staff for in-stream flow standard development.  Other charges were also leveled, relating to the recommendation to the Water Commission.  This appears to us to be a case of pure political retaliation. After all, East Maui Irrigation Company and Alexander & Baldwin want the continued diversion of water from the streams, to use for their own purposes.  The health of the streams and the aquatic species who live in them are of little or no importance in the face of money and corporate greed.  The public should be outraged by this political hack, Laura Thielen, and her hatchet job on a respected professional who is doing his job and making non-binding recommendations based on scientific facts, not political paybacks or payoffs.  The streams should be managed for the enjoyment and benefit of all of Hawaii’s citizens, and to protect the health of the animals and plants which live in them.

It’s also noteworthy that the Maui taro farmers would benefit from Dr. Polhemus’ recommendations to the Water Commission as well.  Sources tell us that there has been no explanation given to the DAR staff as to why their Administrator is gone.  I think most of us can understand that this would cause paranoia among the remaining staff, who are becoming paralyzed with fear that their jobs may be next.  The way management conducts itself has a direct impact on worker morale and confidence.  Obviously, this atmosphere of fear in the workplace does not improve workers’ ability to effectively manage and protect our precious and irreplaceable aquatic environment.

This brings us to another area of concern regarding Thielen and her practices as the head of the DLNR.   If Dr. Polhemus is to be fired because of his non-binding recommendations to the Water Commission, then the information below should constitute sufficient cause to call for the resignation of Thielen herself.  The federal government (National Park

DLNR Director, Laura Thielen

Service) has written a letter to the State, regarding the operating deficiencies of the SHPD, and has designated the SHPD as a “high risk” agency.  The feds tried to help SHPD correct the deficiencies, but they were not successful, according to a 2002 audit. The federal government identified specific locations where follow-up was missing, and SHPD now stands to lose $1.4 million in federal funding.

The SHPD is in charge of preserving our historic and cultural sites, including burial sites.  The culture and history of a people, the Hawaiian people, is in jeopardy.  Can we afford to lose these priceless places?   The federal government said the SHPD is not meeting federal guidelines.  They are not meeting their obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), either.In addition, the Land Development Fund has slipped nearly $5 million into the red, because no one bothered to mind the books.  The so-called dereliction of duty by Dr. Polhemus looks trivial by comparison, don’t you agree?  So, should Dr. Dan Polhemus be fired?  Or should Laura Thielen be fired instead? We think Dr. Polhemus did his job, but it is painfully evident that Thielen has neglected her job.

One last thing:  Under Hawaii Revised Statues, Section 76-1, it states that “the purpose of this chapter is to build a career service in government, free from coercive political influences, to render impartial service to the public at all times, according to the dictates of ethics and morality and in compliance with all laws”.  That is not what is happening at DLNR.  “Coercive political influences” have taken over our government, apparently.   And, when one person tries to act in an ethical manner and render an impartial decision in compliance with the law, he is suspended and must attend proceedings for his firing.   No, the failure is not with Dr. Polhemus.   The failure of effective leadership of the DLNR is evident, and the responsibility goes right to the top, to Thielen herself.   Sources from within the DLNR indicate that the DLNR’s management is headed for utter chaos.   We, the public, must get involved in our government, and we must hold the Lingle administration, and Thielen herself, accountable for their misdeeds.  We urge all citizens to call the Legislature, Hanabusa (Senate) and Say (House), and also Governor Lingle, and demand that Dr. Polhemus be reinstated and that Laura Thielen be fired from her position as Chairperson of the DLNR instead.