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Thursday, April 24, 2014

DEQ, CRM merger goes through

Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ executive order merging the Division of Environmental Quality and the Coastal Resources Management Office will take effect on Sunday as planned, after the House referred back the EO to committee for review yesterday afternoon and the Senate is not holding a session until Tuesday.

The governor’s reorganization plan, which he signed on Nov. 12, 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 did not vote to reject or modify the EO yesterday afternoon; instead it approved a motion to refer it back to Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero’s (Cov-Saipan) Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee for review.

Leon Guerrero, during the session, said when the JGO panel was reviewing the EO and preparing the recommendation to reject it, there were no assurances or formal communication from federal grantors National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stating that the CNMI risks losing money if DEQ and CRM merge.

“In light of new discovery and during the latest meeting with the agencies [DEQ and CRM], EPA and NOAA assured there’s no federal funding loss and they will assist in retaining this funding,” Leon Guerrero said.

At 3:12pm, the House approved a motion to refer back the governor’s EO to JGO Committee.

The House’s decision not to reject or amend the EO yesterday, plus the Senate’s lack of session before Jan. 12, essentially allows the merger to go through.

But some lawmakers, including Reps. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), Richard Seman (R-Saipan) and Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan), said DEQ and CRM, as well as the administration, still have to address outstanding concerns raised during a series of meetings with the JGO Committee, including fund accountability, and ensuring that there won’t be additional hiring but only reshuffling.

At the session, House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said two outstanding concerns were addressed in the last few days, including assurances from federal grantors that there won’t be a loss of federal grants as a result of the merger and it will not jeopardize the regulatory functions of these local agencies and the permitting process.

Still, Tebuteb said, the assurance from NOAA and EPA were asked and sent only “after the fact,” long after the governor signed the executive merger.

The governor’s EO creates a Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality to be headed by an administrator and will have two divisions: DEQ and CRM.

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