WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) request for funding to help lower electricity costs in insular areas was answered yesterday, when appropriators included $12 million to fund energy action plans for the Marianas and other island jurisdictions in a spending bill for fiscal year 2020.
The House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies also increased the set-aside for insular area water systems from the 0.33 percent required by law and for sewers and water treatment from 0.25 percent.
The set-asides for water and sewer will both be 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2020. Total water and sewer funding went up 8 percent in the bill, further adding to the islands’ increase.
Sablan asked for $12 million to kick-start energy action plans for the insular areas in his appropriations requests earlier this year. The plans were mandated in 2014 by Public Law 113-235 as a way to bring down the cost of electricity. The plans are supposed to be approved by the Interior secretary with specific goals to reduce reliance on expensive foreign fuels and modernize energy infrastructure. And the secretary is required to report to Congress every year on whether the goals are being met. To date, that has not happened.
“Electricity costs have not changed—at least not in the Marianas,” Sablan told Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at a Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday. He asked Bernhardt for an update on any progress on the energy plans since the two met earlier this month. But Bernhardt reported taking no action.
Interior Appropriations Subcommittee chair Betty McCollum specifically highlighted Sablan’s funding request during her opening remarks at yesterday’s mark-up. “The bill provides $12 million for Energizing Insular Communities to reduce the insular areas’ reliance and expenditures on imported fuels, develop domestic energy sources, and improve the performance of energy infrastructure,” McCollum said.
This will be the 11th year that Sablan has been able to increase the set-asides for island water and sewer infrastructure.
Beginning with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and in every annual appropriation for the Environmental Protection Agency since then, the set-asides have been increased from their statutory limits. For the Marianas that has meant over $60 million in additional funding and led to 24-hour water for Saipan households. (PR)