Council is considering banning certain sunscreens


The Maui County Council heard from over 90 testifiers on a wide variety of agenda items at its Dec. 1 meeting. Due the volume of testimony, decision-making was recessed until this past Monday when all matters were considered.

One of the agenda items of interest included action on a recommendation from the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee to prohibit the use and sale of SPF sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.

According to the committee’s report, it heard from the volunteer coordinator for outreach and information at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Reserve in Makena. He testified that according to the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, a safe level of oxybenzone and octinoxate exposure for coral reefs is 64 parts per trillion. The most recent testing at the reserve indicated a level of 1,084 parts per trillion.

This level also represents a substantial increase from a previous test result of 864 parts per trillion, despite efforts to educate the public about the effects of these chemicals on Maui’s coral reefs.

As a result of the committee’s action, the Department of the Corporation Counsel reviewed the bill’s contents and identified legal issues that could potentially expose the county to legal challenges if enacted. Issues range from a state pre-emption and whether the county has the appropriate authority to regulate usage of sunscreen in nearshore waters, which is in the state’s jurisdiction. Federal pre-emptions were also raised with the Food and Drug Administration and the commerce clause.

The county’s attorney did not sign the bill as to form and legality. Although the council has the ability to pass any bill without a legal signature, it is an action rarely exercised because of possible exposure.

In a compromise, the council approved the recommendation in the committee report, with the intent of holding a formal hearing including a panel of experts and stakeholders of the issue. The discussion will help to clearly frame the issues of the bill as well as to fully address the concerns raised by the corporation counsel.

The panel will be assembled and a hearing will be held within the next few months before final action is taken on the matter.

At the same meeting, in a 5-4 vote, the council passed a bill to establish a short-term rental tax classification, for tax-valuation purposes, for lodging and dwelling units occupied by transient tenants for periods of less than six consecutive months and not classified as hotels or resorts.

Members previously questioned moving short-term rentals into their own category rather than keeping them in their current commercial class or adding them to the hotel and resort class. The Department of Finance has stated that this new class will bring clarity and create uniformity between properties within each real property tax classification with similar uses.

Many owners of short-term rentals feel they are not similar to hotels, so the bill includes language to establish clear differences. The rate for the new tax classification will be included by the mayor in his budget proposal and established by the council in the annual budget.

This week, the council and its committees have a full slate of meetings. On Monday, the Policy, Economic Development, and Agricultural Committee will take-up the matter relating to the mayor’s removal of Dave Taylor as the director of Water Supply. The meeting is slated to begin at 9 a.m. in the Council Chambers with testimony being accepted in person or by email at


* Mike White is chair of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to for more information.