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Thursday, April 24, 2014

House panel recommends rejecting order to merge DEQ, CRM
Governor wants legislative findings to justify action on EO

After almost five hours of meeting with Division of Environmental Quality and Coastal Resources Management officials Friday morning and afternoon, the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations later voted to recommend to the full House of Representatives the rejection of Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ Nov. 12 executive order merging DEQ and CRM over concerns this could result in loss of federal funds.

The governor, in a separate interview that day, said he would like to know the committee’s specific findings, adding that not merging the two agencies could probably result in loss of federal funds and not the other way around, given CRM’s prior issues with its federal grantor over management and reporting.

“I don’t know where the federal fund is going to be lost in this deal; in fact it probably be lost if we didn’t do this [reorganization],” Inos said.

The governor reiterated that the merger is meant to provide efficiency and reduce duplication of functions and duties between DEQ and CRM. He said the EO “was put together in consultation with affected federal agencies.”

The JGO Committee’s vote came a few days before the 60-day legislative deadline to either modify or reject the governor’s executive order, or the merger becomes effective after Jan. 12.

Of the four members of the committee that participated in the late Friday afternoon deliberation, three voted to recommend rejecting the reorganization: JGO chair Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), and Rep. Anthony Benavente (Ind-Saipan).

The fourth, JGO vice chair Rep. John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan), voted to let the full House decide on the plan. He said he’s not taken a position on the issue other than present the EO to the full House at its next session.

“At the time of the voting, I didn’t really feel that there’s sufficient information given to support the rejection,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

Three other members of the JGO panel were not in the deliberation: Rep. Antonio Agulto (Ind-Saipan), floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Teresita Santos (R-Rota). Agulto is married to the acting CRM administrator so he abstained from the meeting and deliberation; Demapan was in the meeting with DEQ and CRM but was not around for the deliberation and voting, while Santos was not on Saipan at the time.

Sablan said he was banking on the assurance from DEQ and CRM that they will request both the agencies’ federal grantors—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—to submit a letter stating their position on the governor’s executive order. Sablan said they’re hoping the letters would state whether EPA and NOAA funding to the two local agencies will be negatively impacted if they are to be merged, among other things.

Deleon Guerrero, in a separate interview, said he was not given a compelling reason to merge the two agencies after meeting with DEQ and CRM.

“The merger could probably complicate things for the two agencies. They have distinct functions. It could also affect the CRM board which decides on major siting permits,” Deleon Guerrero said.

He added that the JGO report recommending rejection of the merger order could be ready as early as today. A House session could be held this week.

Rejecting the governor’s reorganization plan becomes effective 60 days after submission to the Legislature, unless a majority of the members of the House and Senate specifically modify or disapprove it.

The House JGO Committee met with DEQ and CRM officials from Friday morning to afternoon, breaking only for lunch.

Lawmakers, including those not members of the JGO panel, took turns asking CRM and DEQ, along with counsel Kate Fuller, about the reorganization’s impacts and intent.

The governor’s executive order establishes the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality. It will be headed by an administrator and will have two divisions: DEQ and CRM.

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