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Somebody’s got to do it

City Councilmember Donovan Dela Cruz has long cited his environmental concerns as one of the reasons he entered politics. He’s introduced dozens of plans to make Honolulu earth-friendlier, but he’s also the last one to pat himself on the back for the City’s environmental strides, even those areas in which progress has been a direct result of his efforts. When it comes down to it, he says, there’s still too much left to do to feel good about what’s been accomplished so far.

“Lots and lots to do,” says Dela Cruz. “We should have a goal to be the most environmentally friendly City in the world, and we need to figure out how we’re going to get there. We got to think long-term in terms of our dependency on fossil fuels: the environmental impacts, the clean-jobs impacts and the cost impacts.”

Since he was elected to the City Council in 2002, Dela Cruz has helped the City establish several new environmental initiatives, including launching public forums on recycling, the mandated use of some recycled water in municipal buildings, the creation of an invasive vegetation task force, and the recent creation of a larger environmental task force to manage and oversee the City’s environmental efforts. That task force, Dela Cruz says, will hopefully speed up the rate of progress and lead the City Council to adopt larger-scale environmental initiatives.

“The task force grew out of frustration for not being able to get consensus on some of the more progressive legislation,” says Dela Cruz. “Green roofs, green standards, building permits, tax incentives, a plastic bags ban, all those kinds of things. We also need buy-in from the private sector.”

He also champions stricter environmental standards and the elimination of loopholes that allow the City to exempt itself from current regulations.

“Right now,” he says, “there are exceptions that the administration can use if they find it’s cost prohibitive.”

Dela Cruz says it’s also a key time for the City to prioritize environmentalism and the creation of new development standards, as it continues to move forward with a multibillion-dollar rail proposal.

“They’re thinking environmentally as far as biking paths and walking paths, but we need to incorporate more green standards as far as how the buildings and structures are being built,” he says. “I mean the transit centers themselves. If we develop correctly, we can use solar, we can use green roofs, we can use the right lighting, all these different components so that carbon footprint is reduced.”

Dela Cruz points to environmentally responsible development as the City’s–and his own–most pressing obligation.

“If I could do anything, it would be to make sure that every building, moving forward as well as retrofitting existing buildings, meets some environmental standards. The carbon footprint a building leaves is just huge.”