News recently of a proposed $61 million Biodiesel refinery on Maui
rippled through the islands (“Biofuels: They’re the bomb!” Feb. 22,
2007). Blue Earth Biofuels is seeking $59 million from the Hawai`i
state Legislature by way of special purpose revenue bonds to build the
project. Blue earth plans to produce bio diesel from imported palm oil
and will import at least 40 million gallons per year. Importing oil?
How does this create a sustainable local renewable energy economy? I
thought we were trying to get away from this paradigm? Gee whiz, Mr.
I did some research into palm oil and was awestruck by the
devastation palm oil plantations are causing to the world’s great
tropical rain forests. Palm oil production is driving deforestation and
cultural destruction in Africa, the Amazon, Central America, Indonesia,
New Guinea, Malaysia, Borneo, SE Asia, and islands in other Asia
Pacific regions. Sixty million acres are planned for palm oil
plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia alone because palm oil is in such
The main culprit of deforestation is China’s burgeoning economy
consuming huge tracts of tropical forest. In fact palm oil plantations
using slash, burn, wetland draining methods are the third largest
carbon dioxide producer in the world contributing eight percent of all
global CO2 emissions. In April 2006, China purchased 28.2 million cubic
feet of Indonesian old growth hardwoods to build sports facilities for
the 2008 Olympic summer games at cost of one billion dollars.
Huge swaths of tropical forest have been illegally logged by the
Indonesian military and sold to China. After the land is logged it is
converted to palm oil plantations.
The Borneo rain forest is considered the lungs of Southeast Asia.
This ecosystem is home to 7,000 species with a bio-diversity unlike
anything on Earth. It’s home to elephants, miniature rhinoceros, the
sun bear, orangutans, tree dwelling gibbons, deer, incredible bird
life, nearly extinct wild forest leopards, cats and botanical specimens
both discovered and undiscovered with untold medicinal value.
At one field station in Borneo’s Kayan Mentarang National Park,
dozens of new species of trees, mosses and herbs, butterflies, frogs,
fresh water prawns, snakes and entirely new species of mammals were
found since 1991. “This field station alone has more frogs and snake
species than in all of Europe,” said research station director Stephan
Wulffraat, a conservation biologist with World Wildlife Fund.
The unsustainable destruction of the world’s tropical rainforests
will prove disastrous to valuable ecosystems required by plant
communities, animals and people who depend upon the viability and
economic benefits of intact watersheds, fisheries and sustainable
resource harvesting. To put it bluntly, this idea that somehow
sustainable palm oil can be produced is an erroneous one. All of the
world’s palm oil can or could be consumed by China. If you somehow find
and take away the small amount of “sustainable oil” the unsustainably
produced oil will just fill the void and cancel out the benefits.
Why does Maui need an unknown mainland company (Blue Earth),
subsidized by the state to produce quantities of Biodiesel which are
unsustainable through local production and which will always be
dependent upon foreign oil imports? I believe it far better to invest
in our local Pacific Biodiesel company and with Hawai`i farmers who
have proven accountability.
We should invest this $59 million into putting our own ag lands into
bio fuel oil seed crops. Invest in research and in identifying the best
sustainable oil seed crops for local harvest and production. Invest in
the local community and keep the wealth for our island and state by not
sending monies offshore perpetuating environmentally destructive palm
The time has come for Hawai`i to control its destiny and not be at
the mercy of foreign oil imports and mainland corporations who come to
Maui/Hawai`i with their hands out looking for us to hand them the
money. Let us invest in ourselves.
-Lance Holter, Paia
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