Environmental Law Program

Congratulations to Rachel Ray ‘20 for Best Environmental Law SYS Paper

Congratulations to ELP Student, Rachel Ray ‘20, whose Second Year Seminar (SYS) paper was selected to receive the prestigious Hawaii State Bar Association Environment, Energy, and Resources Section Award for best SYS paper on an environmental law topic.  Rachel’s paper, “A Tourist’s Duty To Protect Hawaiʻi’s Beauty: Utilizing Visitor Taxes To Fund State Parks And Trails,” was selected from papers nominated from the Summer 2018 and Spring 2019 SYS sections.

Rachel’s inspiration for her SYS paper came while interning at Conservation International, where she learned about Palau’s “Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee.”  In Palau, the fee is the primary financing mechanism for Palau’s national marine sanctuary. In Rachel’s SYS paper, she explores other possible avenues to help fund conservation efforts and preserve Hawaiʻi’s natural resources.

Rachel is looking forward to graduating law school with an Environmental Law certificate.  She is hoping to find government or nonprofit work in the Environmental Law field. 

Congratulations, Rachel!      


Every year tourists spend billions of dollars on vacationing in the Hawaiian Islands, many drawn by Hawaiʻi’s extraordinary natural beauty.  Yet there is a disconnect between the revenue generated by tourism and the way funds are allocated to the agencies charged with protecting, managing, and preserving Hawaiʻi’s natural resources.  Faced with a projected ten million visitors to the state in 2019, the Division of State Parks (DSP) and Na Ala Hele Trail Program (NAH) struggle with uncertain and inadequate funding. The Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) and the Rental Motor Vehicle and Tour Vehicle Surcharge Tax (RVST), could provide a stable and sufficient means of capturing funds spent by tourists in the state, that can then be allocated to DSP and NAH to manage natural resources.

The TAT or Hawaiʻi’s “hotel tax,” is levied on the gross rental proceeds from the rental of all transient accommodations.  In fiscal year 2018, TAT collections totaled over $555 million, a 9% increase from the year prior. A portion of the collections from Hawaiʻi’s “hotel tax” or TAT, have been earmarked for DSP and NAH in the past, as well as for the Department of Land and Natural Resources more generally.  The RVST levies a monthly tax on vehicle rentals, as well as tour vehicle operators in the state. In 2018, approximately $293 million was collected for all motor vehicle taxes, including RVST. Currently, all RVST collections are deposited into the state highway fund or a subsequent county fund.

In order to better utilize these two common forms of a “tourist tax,” funding from each should be directly allocated to DSP and NAH to more adequately manage and mitigate visitor impacts on Hawaiʻi’s environment.  It is time to shift governmental priorities from increasing tourism to managing and protecting the environment that drives tourism, before the land is irrevocably damaged. Hawaiʻi’s tourism industry will directly benefit from higher functioning agencies in the form of updated park facilities, more and better managed trails and access to trails, and more outdoor recreation opportunities.