Due to the threat of the inability of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. to provide critical power generation, water, and wastewater the CNMI, acting governor Ralph DLG Torres renewed yesterday the declaration of a state of significant emergency for CUC.
He said there continues to exist a financial crisis at the utilities company, as CUC is owed over $20 million by the Public School System and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., not including the millions of dollars owed by private consumers.
Although the local economy has recently showed some signs of recovery, Torres said the improvement is only marginal and the CNMI economy and the government’s finances are still fragile.
“This government strains to meet its obligations,” he said.
Making the situation worse, Torres said, is that CUC often only has days’ worth of diesel fuel to power its system because it lacks the funds to buy oil from its sole, cash-only supplier.
Add to this is the technical worker crisis that exists at CUC. Torres said CUC faces a manpower crisis as CNMI law prohibits CUC from hiring more non-U.S. technical workers.
Torres said the impact of the inadequate workforce is substantial. “First, there would be a direct deterioration of service to existing customers. There would be brownouts or area blackouts with the above-mentioned loss of service. Second, the power plants would again degrade, producing more of these outages. Third, if CUC fails to meet federal court deadlines for Stipulated Orders, the court could appoint a federal receiver and its consulting team, with all expenses charged to CUC customers.”
He said the utilities company also bears a substantial obligation to deliver highly technical work on time to the satisfaction of the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “pursuant to two sets of consent, or ‘Stipulated Orders.’ Failure to meet the requirements of the federal court orders could subject CUC and the CNMI to substantial fines and charges and, in the extreme, to a federal takeover of their finances.”
CUC has been under a state of emergency for about 10 years now. The declaration allows the government to “suspend all statutory or regulatory provisions as required, and utilize all available resources of the Commonwealth government and its political subdivisions as reasonably necessary to respond to the emergency.”