Hawaii Travel Update: Governor Suggests Charging ‘Climate Impact Fee’ To Visitors To Prevent Future Disasters

Hawaii Governor Josh Green has been a busy man.

Unlike Maui’s Mayor Richard Bissen, who is under fire for dodging questions, Green has made himself widely available and has spoken at length on a number of hot topics.

On Friday, he answered a broad range of questions from local media in a sweeping presser, discussing everything from resident relocation to future strategies of disaster prevention.

As noted earlier this week, there is a chance that tourists could be staying alongside displaced locals at West Maui hotels when the area reopens to tourism on October 8th. Since, concerns have swirled that there won’t be enough time to relocate those residents before the tourists arrive.

Green confirmed Friday that the government will not be kicking residents out of the hotels until a long-term lodging solution is secured for them, setting up the possibility that displaced residents and tourists could indeed wind up in the same hotels.

He went on to suggest, however, that they may try to keep several hotels as residents only.

“We may consolidate hotels so that four or five hotels are where [displaced residents] stay,” he said. It seems the exact plan will depend on how many residents can be placed in long-term housing between now and October 8th, and how many visitor bookings hotels receive between now and then.

Also of note from the interview was Green’s answer to a question from local news station KHON2 about how he plans to mitigate and prevent future tragedies.

The governor seemed to imply that future incidents were inevitable given the status of climate change.

“The reality today here and globally, is things are drier, storms are stronger, and that means that disasters are going to be large,” he said. “We saw our disaster here. We also saw a disaster in both Libya and Morocco in the last two weeks that resulted in tens of thousands of lost lives.”

He discussed a variety of recommendations to help prevent future fires that included a satellite-based warning system and burying power lines underground.

“We changed our policy prerogatives after 911 to focus on security, we focused a lot of our public health priorities after the COVID pandemic, and now I think it’s going to be climate driven,” Green said. “So I hope people will accept that.”

In terms of how the state might pay for such measures, Green said he would like to consider charging tourists a “climate impact fee.”

Local news wrote about the potential climate impact fee, which Green previously campaigned on, in depth earlier this year. Editorials also called for its passing as recently as last April.

At that time, the fee was proposed as $50 per person, and has also been referred to as a “visitor-impact fee.” When those aforementioned articles were published, the idea was to use the money collected from the fee – an estimated $500-$600 million per year – for environmental concerns caused by the impact of tourists, such as the management of State Parks and other natural areas.

Now, if such a fee were established, Green would look to use some of the money for preventative measures. To become official, the fee would have to be addressed and passed in the upcoming legislative sessions, which begin in January.

“I hope that [the climate impact fee is] something we revisit because we’re going to need money to make sure we have more firefighters, that we have more equipment, and we have more money for investigations like this,” he said. “It’s a really important discussion to have.”

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