Senate President Pete P. Reyes has introduced a bill calling for the preservation of natural resources in the Northern Islands.
Senate Bill 16-32, which creates a “Northern Islands Commonwealth Conservation Area,” is seen as a response to the marine monument proposal for the Marianas’ northernmost islands.
In his bill, Reyes said it is necessary to reaffirm the constitutional protection of the northern islands because “recently people have called into question the Commonwealth’s dedication to environmental stewardship.”
Pew Charitable Trusts, a not-for-profit organization, is lobbying for the designation of a Mariana Trench Marine National Monument around the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion.
The Fitial administration and the Legislature have publicly opposed the proposal, citing concerns about the CNMI’s future ability to fish and utilize other resources available in the islands.
“We have been ‘federalized’ enough. We don’t need any more people coming in and telling us how we should manage our natural resources,” said Reyes, alluding to the recent passage of a law allowing the federal government to seize control of the CNMI immigration.
Reyes said that his bill, which mainly codifies what’s already in the Constitution, has the same intent as that of the Pew proposal: to protect the environment.
“Rather than giving up one-third of our land to the federal government’s control, why not protect it ourselves? We can accomplish the same thing and maintain control at the same time,” he added.
Angelo Villagomez, a local coordinator of Pew Charitable Trusts, said he welcomes all conservation efforts in the community. But he pointed out that a national marine monument declaration could offer much more environmental protection than the local measure could.
“This bill is different from the Mariana Trench Marine Monument proposal in that it only pertains to the emergent lands. There is language in the bill about submerged lands, but that issue has already been resolved. This bill has the potential to work in conjunction with the Marine Monument proposal to protect both the land and the water,” Villagomez said.
He praised a provision in the bill that would create a conservation fund. But he said the language should be strengthened to keep the money in the fund from being used for non-conservation purposes.
Villagomez also urged the Senate to hold public hearings on the bill, as the Pew group has done since March, to allow for community input.