Former Hawaiian Governor Talks Clean Energy, Public Policy

Former Hawaiian governor and environmentalist Linda Lingle spoke Thursday about the need for political dexterity in pursuit of clean energy goals...

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By Phoebe Keller, via the Cornell Daily Sun, 10/26/14

Former Hawaiian Governor Linda Lingle spoke about the state’s clean energy initiative and the importance of building a more sustainable future at a lecture Thursday. (Diana Mak / Sun Senior Photographer)
Former Hawaiian Governor Linda Lingle spoke about the state’s clean energy initiative and the importance of building a more sustainable future at a lecture Thursday. (Diana Mak / Sun Senior Photographer)

Former Hawaiian governor and environmentalist Linda Lingle spoke Thursday about the need for political dexterity in pursuit of clean energy goals.

Lingle — who served as governor of Hawaii from 2002 to 2010 — was the first female governor of the state and the first Republican governor of the state since 1962.

She said that breaking these boundaries inspired her quest for change and her “optimistic” outlook.

“I’m an optimist by nature,” Lingle said. “After all, I’m a Republican in Hawaii.”

Lingle also spoke on the dire economic situation that faced Hawaii when she first took office in 2002. She said the state’s oil reliance meant that Hawaii had the highest electricity prices and the highest cost of living in the nation.

“Hawaii is the most isolated population center on the planet,” she said. “Therefore, we are much more vulnerable and face a different set of issues.”

Lingle said that approximately 10 years ago, Hawaii was the most oil-dependent state in the United States, with over 80 percent of the state’s electricity coming from all foreign oil. This cost the state five to seven billion dollars annually, she said.

“To me, energy seemed to be at the heart of everything,” she said. “We were paying billions of dollars every year to buy a polluting substance.”

Lingle also described the evolution of Hawaii’s clean energy initiative, saying the change was motivated primarily by simple logic.

“Logic and politics are an unusual combination, but to me the solution was clear,” she said. “We needed to transform Hawaii into a model of energy sustainability and security.”

Lingle, who was instrumental in the creation of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, said the program has set a statewide goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030. Hawaii is currently at 18 percent, “well ahead of schedule,” she said.

However, Lingle went on to say that logic alone is not enough to transform public policy without strong political leadership.

“Transformation requires a willingness to go out and articulate the problems that matter,” she said. “When you’re tired of hearing yourself repeat the same issues over and over, that’s when your audience is hearing it for the first time.”

Lingle also emphasized the importance of leading by example and motivating all citizens to participate in building a more sustainable future.

“Public policy changes require everyone to get the credit [and] to have truly participated and earned it,” she said.

Lingle conceded that it can be difficult to convince citizens to participate because this process involves challenging their long-held beliefs. However, she said her administration utilized tax credits, cash grants and free parking as consumer incentives.

“We had to ask people to think in the long term,” she said. “Reliability of electricity is important, but not as important as security. We had to convince people that conservation was in our collective best interest.”

In accomplishing these political goals, Lingle — who was a cofounder of the Bipartisan Policy Center Governors’ Council — said she has also become an outspoken advocate of bipartisan cooperation in an era of increasing polarization.

“It’s becoming disgraceful at the national level,” Lingle said. “We’re far too partisan. If there’s no compromise, nothing moves forward.”

While Lingle has moved on from her position as governor, she said she has continued her environmental quest by participating in the Energy Security Council and teaching a seminar at California State University, Northridge on public policy.

Lingle — who said she is proud of Hawaii’s continued success — also said she encourages those who want to make any lasting change to take small steps and to keep the final goal in mind.

“There’s an exhilaration that comes from being a part of any kind of positive transformation and knowing that that transformation will stand the test of time,” she said.

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