Jonathan Small | September 1, 2023

Left-wing policies and unintended consequences

Jonathan Small

Public policy advanced primarily to gain social-media applause rather than to improve people’s lives can have disastrous consequences, as seen recently in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, concerns about “equity” combined with promotion of “green” energy to create conditions where a wildfire could harm thousands and (apparently) kill hundreds. There were numerous steps along the way that could have prevented this tragedy. But policymakers never took those steps because of misplaced focus.

The wildfire is believed to have been caused by power lines that sparked a blaze in tall grass. The reason those conditions existed is due, in part, to politicians’ desire to campaign as opponents of hypothetical “climate change.”

In 2015, Hawaii lawmakers voted to mandate that 100 percent of the state’s electric supply come from “renewable” sources, such as wind or solar, by 2045. As recent reports have shown, Hawaiian Electric responded by putting its money into making that transformation.

You might think, “So what if a company invests in wind power? Where’s the harm?”

The harm came in the form of spending that didn’t happen because of the green-power focus. As the utility’s cash went to renewable power, it didn’t go to mitigate wildfire risk. Money for one came at the expense of the other.

Put simply, one reason Maui became such a tinderbox is because policymakers effectively incentivized the power company to turn it into one.

Just as bad, local officials failed to respond aggressively to the wildfire when it broke out—perhaps because of an equally fatuous focus on “equity.”

According to a letter from West Maui Land Co. Inc., that was sent to Deputy Director M. Kaleo Manuel of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management and obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the fire was under control at 9 a.m., but officials asked the commission to approve the diversion of more water from streams to use for possible fire control, noting continuing concern about fallen power lines, strong winds and low reservoir levels.

The commission did not provide swift approval. Instead, the commission asked that downstream users be consulted. By the time approval was granted, around 6 p.m., it was too late.

Notably, Manuel has gained notoriety for a prior video in which he publicly said that water could be shared, “but it requires true conversations about equity.”

Ultimately, the “equity” provided to Maui was devastation and death for rich and poor alike.

It’s true that Oklahoma officials are not in thrall to left-wing nostrums the way that Hawaii officials have been, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the lessons from Hawaii.

Even in Oklahoma, interest groups continue to push “green” energy policies. As Hawaii shows, the trade-off involved in promoting such policies, if done without consideration for the bigger picture, can be incredibly destructive.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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