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National Science Foundation urged to consider alternative sites for Thirty Meter Telescope

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is urging the National Science Foundation to consider alternative construction sites for the Thirty Meter Telescope in its upcoming review of the project.

In comments submitted to the NSF, the EPA says building TMT as proposed has the potential to result in “disproportionately high and adverse impacts to Native Hawaiians.”

The federal agency encouraged the NSF to include in its environmental impact statement analysis of other locations beyond its proposed site.

That would include decommissioned telescope sites and other areas already disturbed by development.

Sept. 19 was the deadline for comments regarding the scope of the NSF’s proposed EIS, designed to help the agency determine whether to help finance the proposed TMT.

A draft EIS is expected early next summer, but NSF officials say a decision not to go forward with investing in TMT could be made at any time, including before the environmental review process is over.

Robert Kirshner, executive director of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory LLC, said in a statement, “Mauna Kea is of great significance to many and it is essential for there to be a thorough assessment of the effects on the mountain's cultural, biological, visual and geological resources. The ongoing federal review process is key to ensuring the community has the opportunity to share their views to fully inform the National Science Foundation of the potential effects of the TMT project.”

Kealoha Pisciotta, the spokesperson for the Mauna Kea Hui, says she was happy to hear the EPA's stance on Maunakea.

"I am very thankful for the EPA's statement and assessment," she told HPR's The Conversation. "EPA is a major federal agency that has oversight over things involving the environment, and also the human environment in the way that the human environment is reliant upon the environment itself."

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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