Rob Parsons

Mr. Green

Eco activist Lance Holter takes on the world

by Rob Parsons

August 07, 2008

Lance Holter: Environmental crusader,
mango picker, soccer dad.

In order to track down ultra-busy environmental activist, Maui Democratic Party Chair, soccer dad, plumbing contractor, realtor, Akaku TV producer and man about town Lance Holter, I had to meet him at his home in Paia. Lance lives in a hideaway at the end of a narrow cul de sac, on a property that once was a Buddhist church.

"This was a healing church," he told me. "They would do shiatsu and massage in the main dwelling, after walking through the yard and saying prayers at each station." Holter still maintains the shrines in the yard, which is shaded by the enormous canopy of a grandfather Poinciana tree.

I met him in another part of his yard, and grabbed a rake to help him clear mango leaves and branches. "This one here is a mapulehu from Moloka`i," he said, showing me the large, oblong multi-hued fruit. "They're kind of rare." We spent the next hour cleaning his yard, and talking story about the many projects and issues on his slate.

Lance has evolved, since his early days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa in the 1970s, into one of Hawaii's premier community activists and eco-warriors. He has campaigned for affordable housing, beach parks and alternative energy, has twice run for County Council and was voted Best Political Activist by Maui Time Weekly readers in 2007.

Holter brought in the parents of court-martialed U.S. Army Lt. Ehren Watada to speak about their son's refusal to serve in Iraq on grounds the war and occupation violate our constitution. He has shown films of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, visited the area himself, and hosted native Gwich'in and Inupiat Alaskans to address the dangers of oil drilling in their pristine environment.

Recently, he addressed the crux of $140/barrel oil, testifying at a County Council Planning Committee agenda item on high fuel costs. "Everyone's wondering why we're having a crisis at the fuel pump nowadays," Holter began, expounding on a topic he's often covered on his twice-monthly Akaku public access TV show, Crossroads. "I maintain it's a direct result of having oil men in the White House, especially with oil corporation profits exceeding record levels quarter after fiscal quarter."

Holter has expanded his essay beyond the three minutes of testimony allowed at Council meetings, to a 1500-word piece he submitted for publication with the Honolulu Weekly.

While we loaded mango leaves, branches and other yard trimmings into his biodiesel truck (with the "No War required" sticker on the front windshield), Holter told me about an author coming to Maui on his book tour. Vietnam War correspondent and LA Times journalist Robert Scheer will be on Maui promoting his new book, The Pornography of Power. According to Holter's press release for two Maui events, it is "a blistering indictment of the military industrial complex and how defense hawks hijacked 9/11 and weakened America." Scheer will speak at The Studio Maui in Haiku on Wednesday, August 13 at 7pm, and the Kihei Charter School auditorium on Thursday, August 14 at 7pm.

Both presentations will be followed by the film Senator Obama Goes To Africa, a documentary of his 2006 visit that is described as "Part personal odyssey and part chronicle of diplomacy in action." The film follows Sen. Barack Obama as he visits Darfur, site of military conflict and atrocities in Western Sudan, South Africa, where he visits the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and to Kenya, for an emotional homecoming to the homeland of Obama's father.

Holter has also been an advocate of locally produced renewable energy, and a critic of more imports, both petroleum and palm oil. Representing the Sierra Club-Maui Group, which he chairs, he was a panelist/presenter at last November's Maui County Energy Expo.

Holter has discussed the idea of large concentrated parabolic solar installations with industry experts at Abengoa Solar, currently building the world's largest plant near Gila Bend, Arizona. With two 140-megawatt generators, Abengoa's Solana Generating Station will be capable of providing electric power for 70,000 homes.

When Abengoa representatives came to Hawaii earlier this year, Holter made introductions both to Maui Electric Company officials and the state Democratic leadership, including state Senators,Shan Tsutsui, Kalani English and Gary Hooser, U.S. House Rep. Mazie Hirono, and staff members from the offices of U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Dan Akaka.

"You know who seemed the most interested," Holter said, "was (Maui County Council member) Mike Victorino." I reminded him that Victorino had recently sent out a press release of a resolution he'd be introducing at the August 8 full Council meeting. The draft resolution would refer to the Maui, Lanai and Molokai Planning Commissions a draft ordinance to establish solar energy facilities as permitted uses on agriculturally zoned land.

"You've got the piece I wrote on the oil men in the White House, right?" Holter asked. It's got a great solar energy quote from (Environmental Defense Fund President) Fred Krupp's new book Earth: The Sequel. You've got to put that in your article." I agree.

Krupp says that, in addition to the superior efficiency of solar plants compared to wind and biofuels, "The economic benefits of solar farming is impressive. A 2006 study?found that solar thermal plants create twice as many jobs as coal and gas plants and produce eight times the retained revenues in the states in which they are located. Each gigawatt of solar thermal-generated electricity, according to the Natural Renewable Energy Lab, will create 3,400 construction jobs, 250 permanent jobs, and $500 million in tax revenues."

As we climbed in the fully loaded truck and headed to the County landfill composting site, I pulled out a stenographer's notebook to take better notes on another project Holter's passionate about. Later this month, Holter will travel to Alaska, his eleventh trip there altogether, to do a kayak float down the Chilikadrotna River to the headwaters of the Nushagak River system. Those waters empty into Bristol Bay, perhaps the most pristine salmon fishery and spawning sight in the world.

But the epic, unspoiled Alaskan ecosystem there faces a huge challenge: gold and copper open pit mining from the Pebble Mine claim. Holter will meet Men's Journal writer Daniel Duane, a photographer, and fishery and wildlife biologists to bring the plight of the area to a wider audience.

"Did you know it takes 20 tons of ore," Holter exclaims, "to extract enough gold for one wedding band? The entire area they want to exploit is a wetlands, a vital ecosystem."

This will be Holter's fourth trip to the area, and he's determined to spread the word about the possible impending environmental devastation. "The Chilikadrotna is designated a `Wild and Scenic' river for 75 miles," he said. "They want to construct a 20-square-mile containment pond for the tailings of the ore. They want to build an earthen dam seven miles long and 600 feet high. Can you believe it?"

Close by is Lake Clark, the least visited of all U.S. National Parks. The area is also home to 7,000-8,000 native Alaskans, both of the Yupick and Athabaskan tribes. Holter relates that the Athabaskans crossed the Bering Strait from Asia over 10,000 years ago, and are so closely related to the Navajos, who continued further south centuries ago, that they can understand their language.

He explains that a survey showed that 73 percent of Alaskans support salmon fishing, which can be managed sustainably, over mining. Estimates place the mining industry's extraction of Alaska's resources at one billion dollars yearly, with only $5.8 million of that revenue staying in the state. By contrast, Alaska's salmon fisheries bring $450 million into the state yearly.

Moreover, the mining industry is the state's most toxic, more so than the oil and gas industry.

Closer to home, Holter has been an advocate for the Patsy Mink Northshore Heritage Park, looking to preserve the undeveloped coastal stretch from Spreckelsville to Paia and beyond. He has enlisted state and national elected officials to forward resolutions and studies to support the project.

Amid his whirlwind of environmental and political activism, Holter is a dedicated family man. He has three daughters, River, Jade and Sarah, and an 18-month-old grandson. Holter's sweetheart, Ave Diaz, is a founding member of Maui Peace Action, and also worked on the 2004 Dennis Kucinich for President campaign, resulting in her being one of eight Hawaii delegates for Kucinich at the Democratic National Convention. She works as a supervisor and counselor with Maui Family Support Services.

Lance Holter has earned accolades for some of his accomplishments, while many more go unnoticed. With the swagger of a frontier sheriff in a white hat, he goes about his days trying to uphold what he believes is right, and that which will protect both natural resources and community values.