Environmental issues will get serious attention when the House of Representatives convenes in January under a new Democratic majority.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) is already working with the likely chairman of the Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans, Rep. Jared Huffman of California, on their agenda for the next two years.
Sablan is a member of the subcommittee.
One item at the top of the two legislators’ list is Sablan’s legislation that bans the sale of shark fins nationwide. Sablan introduced the bill, which is modeled after Commonwealth law, in the 114th Congress and then handed it over to Republican Ed Royce in the 115th Congress to give it a better chance of success in the Republican majority House.
“We have 259 cosponsors to H.R. 1456, more than enough votes to pass the bill in the House,” Sablan said.
However, even with Royce’s sponsorship and what Sablan describes as strong bipartisan support, he said the Republican leadership in the House refuses to move the bill.
“Mr. Huffman and I think that will change, once the new Democratic House gets started,” said Sablan. “Democratic leadership is going to be much more respectful of what the rank-and-file membership wants, rather than controlling everything from the top down.”
In the current Congress Republican leadership has brought more “closed rules” to the floor than ever before in U.S. history. A closed rule means that no one—Republican or Democrat—can offer an amendment. As a result, there can be much less compromise, bipartisan legislation.
In his letter to Sablan mapping out their agenda, Huffman said the people of the Marianas “should be proud that they had the foresight and the political will to protect shark populations in the waters of the Marianas.”
Huffman, a former member of the California Assembly, co-authored legislation there that banned the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in California. He is also an original co-sponsor of H.R. 1456.
While the bill bans the commercial sale of shark fins, it protects noncommercial subsistence use.
The two veteran legislators are also interested in keeping the oceans healthy. “Through our leadership, we can work to keep fisheries sustainable and keep up the success of a strong Magnuson Act,” Huffman said.
The Magnuson Act sets up regional fisheries boards, such as the Western Pacific Fisheries Council, to regulate fishing around the United States and maintain healthy stocks of fish.
As part of planned increased oversight by House committees, Sablan wants to get a long-overdue management plan for fisheries and other uses in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
“This was supposed to be in place two years after President Bush created the monument,” Sablan said. “Then the Obama administration did nothing and now the Trump administration is sitting on it. People in the Marianas are fed up with the delay.”
Another area of concern for both Huffman and Sablan is the impact of climate change. Huffman represents areas of California that were hard hit by wildfires over the last years. And the Marianas is just beginning to recover from Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu.
“Increasing temperatures in the atmosphere and in the ocean are having a negative effect on us all,” Sablan said. “The accelerated intensification of Yutu and of Hurricane Michael that hit Florida last month happens because the ocean is warmer and storms rapidly pick up energy as they pass over those waters.” (PR)