The executive director of the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance said the non-profit environmental group supports lowering the fines for violators of the anti-littering law in the Commonwealth, but also called for increased community participation through “co-management” efforts for better enforcement of the law.
Sam Sablan stressed in an interview that littering continues to remain an issue in the CNMI but if reducing the fines for those who violate the Commonwealth Litter Control Act of 1989 will work, “let's try it out.”
“Two-hundred dollars is a good amount,” she told Saipan Tribune. “However, it's just not working. These are hard economic times. Can people afford it? Is that working? That's the question we need to ask ourselves and it's not, obviously.”
The $200 fine is specified under the 1989 law, which aims to be amended by a current bill introduced by Rep. Joseph M. Palacios (R-Saipan). House Bill 17-171seeks to replace existing penalty provisions with a $25 fine for first-time violators, $100 for second-time violators, and no less than $250 but not more than $500 for third-time offenders. Subsequent violators would be fined no less than $500 but no more than $1,000.
When asked what fine amounts would be reasonable, Sablan said it would depend on the offense. As an example, she said penalties can go as low as $5 for those who are found throwing cigarette butts, which was found to be the number one litter in the last International Coastal Cleanup event.
Those who are found throwing their trash in the boonies and coastal areas deserve to pay at least $1,000, according to Sablan.
She also noted that their group wants to be a part of enforcement efforts for this law, which she said are “practically nil” at this point.
“MINA is pushing to be a part of the co-management team that the government agencies are leading,” said Sablan, referring to the Division of Environmental Quality, Coastal Resources Management Office, and the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
According to Sablan, community involvement would improve enforcement efforts by having members of the public as the environment's “eyes and ears.”
“Always having the community as part of your management plan is more effective rather than not having them. We need to have community engagement. They need to be out there; they need to be a part of this,” she emphasized.
Sablan expressed hope that the Legislature would act on the bill to help find solution to the littering problem in the CNMI and urged everyone to take care of the environment to build resilience for the islands against natural disasters.
“By building resilience, you're adapting to climate change which affects everybody. It affects you as well. If you do not do anything, who will? Who's going to do all that for you? So get involved,” she said.