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Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Isle leaders back bill targeting alien pests

The U.S. Senate legislation aims at improved agriculture training for inspectors

Fri, October 28, 2011

By Gary T. Kubota
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 28, 2011

Several state political leaders including Gov. Neil Abercrombie support a U.S. Senate bill that would create training criteria for agricultural inspectors to prevent alien pests from entering the country, including Hawaii.

Supporters said invasive species cost Hawaii hundreds of millions of dollars annually in lost agricultural revenue, property damage and eradication programs. Invasive pests also pose a threat to endangered and threatened species, with Hawaii home to 25 percent of those in the United States.

"This is really serious business," Abercrombie said during a hearing Thursday by a U.S. Senate oversight subcommittee on government management. "We need all the help we can get."

At the hearing, held on Oahu by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who introduced the legislation, state officials said the bill would help to coordinate and improve agricultural inspections.

The bill, S 1673, is before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and has no hearing scheduled. But Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the senator, who sits on the committee, hopes to get a hearing sometime this year and will push for it to be passed next year.

The bill aims to establish an Office of Agriculture Inspection within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as part of the Department of Homeland Security. Under the measure, an assistant commissioner for agriculture inspection would head the office and be given the power to establish criteria for training. The bill also would require a report on how inspectors can prevent the introduction of alien species.

State officials said after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast on Sept. 11, 2001, agricultural inspectors were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, reducing the personnel to detect and prevent invasive species from entering Hawaii.

Akaka said the bill would help to bring attention to the need to protect U.S. borders from alien pests.

State officials said invasive species have significantly damaged Hawaii's coffee and beekeeping industries in recent years.

Original Story:

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