Hawaii Supreme Court recognizes property right to clean air

The Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled in In re Maui Elec. Co., 2017 Haw. LEXIS 284 (2017) (for majority opinion click here; for dissenting opinion click here) that the state constitution confers a property right to a clean and healty environment sufficient and that the Sierra Club has standing to bring a lawsuit challenging the granting of a power plant permit to a coal-fired plant because its emissions will contribute to air pollution and arguably violated standards contained in the federal Clean Air Act. Because the claim is based on state law and heard in state court, federal court prudential and constitutional limitiations in standing, such as led to similar claims being thrown out of federal court in cases like Kivalina, does not apply to the state court proceedings.

The Hawaii Constitution guarantees each person "the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality." Haw. Const. art. XI, §9. The state due process clause, Haw. Const. art. I, §5, prohibits deprivation of "property without due process of law." In finding a right to healthy air to be a property right, the court cited a prior case in which it held that Native Hawaiian wter rights constituted "property interests" for the purpose of the due process clause. In re 'Īao Ground Water Mgmt. Area High-Level Source Water Use Permit Applications, 287 P.3d 129 (Haw. 2012). The court explained: "where a source of state law--such as article XI, section 9--grants any party a substantive right to a benefit--such as a clean and healthful environment--that party gains a legitimate entitlement to that benefit as defined by state law, and a property interest protected by due process is created."