The Senate approved yesterday a bill appropriating future Marianas Public Land Trust interest distributions to meet the CNMI’s obligations under a settlement agreement it signed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the deal, the local government is required to deposit over $22.8 million until 2018 to complete some stalled Commonwealth Utilities Corp. projects.
House Bill 18-216, HS1 unanimously passed, with all eight senators present saying yes to the measure. Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) was absent.
HB 18-216, HS1 instructs the Department of Public Lands to “immediately transfer” at least $5 million to MPLT.
MPLT will then loan $5 million to the CNMI government at an interest rate of not less than 7 percent per annum to used to satisfy the Commonwealth’s obligation under its settlement agreement with EPA.
Under the settlement agreement with EPA, the CNMI must deposit $5 million by Dec. 31, 2014, into the U.S. District Court for the NMI’s court registry.
Other court-mandated payments to settle the CNMI government’s agreement with EPA are as follows:
-$2,800,000 no later than Feb. 1, 2015;
-$5 million no later than Feb. 1, 2016;
-$5 million no later than Feb. 1, 2017; and
-$5 million no later than Feb. 1, 2018.
CUC executive director Alan Fletcher and legal counsel James Sirok attended the hearing yesterday to voice their opposition to a particular provision of HB 18-216, HS1crediting the $5 million used to satisfy the government’s agreement with EPA to settle outstanding arrears of the Public School System and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
Fletcher said it doesn’t consider the $5 million as payment to the outstanding debt of PSS and CHCC since the “money goes directly to the court.” He said the utility company cannot simply “write off” some of the government’s debt because it deposits $5 million that will be used for CUC projects.
HB 18-216, HS1, which passed the House of Representatives last Dec. 18, now goes to Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ desk for approval.