Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ask and you shall receive

A reporter sent me the following message:
I write for the Fiji-based Islands Business, a once-a-month regional news magazine (islandsbusiness.com). I am writing an article that talks about the Marine National Monument, and the reasons why it is being supported and being opposed.

There are already a lot of articles written about, for and against it, making it easier to write a summary of what's happened so far.

But I need other data: A summary of the study authored by University of Guam economist Dr. Thomas Iverson. Earlier, he mentioned about $333 M in economic benefits to the region over the next several months.

Has Bush said anything about the proposal yet?

After the governor and the Legislature's rejection of the proposal at this time, what's Pew's next step? Where are we now?

How many signatures in the petition to support it as of today?

Thank you.
I sent her a copy of the University of Guam report and the following answers:
Has Bush said anything about the proposal yet?

The White House has done nothing public concerning the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. They have so far directed the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Interior to assess one monument, the war in the Pacific Monument in Hawaii and elsewhere. We are hoping that the President makes a public announcement soon regarding additional monuments, but do not know when it is coming.

After the governor and the Legislature's rejection of the proposal at this time, what's Pew's next step? Are you just now waiting for Bush's action? I read somewhere that he's supposed to have an answer by June 18. Is that true? (When was the very first time that Pew presented the project to Bush?) How far has Pew gone in pushing for this project?

See attached video. The Senate says they are in support of a monument. Even the title of the resolution indicates legislative interest in looking at the issue: To respectfully request that the President of the United States refrain from unilaterally creating a Northern Islands National Monument and imposing the regulatory burdens appurtenant thereto upon the People of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands without the consent of the local government. I do not know anything about the date June 18.

The White House initiated the monument discussion around the US. They informally invited individuals, governments and private groups with whom they had worked on marine conservation issues to suggest areas that might be suitable and important to protect as marine monuments. That was in late 2007.

Pew Environment Group has met with the Council on Environmental Quality to encourage them to assess a monument for the Mariana Trench. We do not yet know whether or not they will undertake such an assessment.

Pew has held numerous public meetings on Saipan since March. Along with many people in the Commonwealth, we believe this is a significant economic and environmental opportunity for the people of the CNMI and have been transparent and open about why we think so – with a consistent message in both Saipan and elsewhere. It’s really up to the people of the CNMI and the federal government to judge whether or not they want to take advantage of the opportunity or not. It is their choice, but we want people to be able to make an informed choice, not one based on rumor.

Is the petition supporting the project still ongoing? How many signatures have you gathered so far?

It is a group of student's collecting signatures. I don't know where they stand right now, but last week they were just over 1000 signatures. The emails from the petitions will be added to our email list should the president decide to assess the Mariana Trench Monument.

As Pew's rep here, how would you describe the nature of opposition to this project?

There are two basic opposition arguments. One is from people who are suspicious of anything to do with the federal government. That viewpoint is somewhat understandable given our recent experience with federal actions. But that attitude means it doesn't matter whether or not a proposal is beneficial or not. For those opposed to working with the federal government, even a terrific opportunity will be attacked. That is an unfortunate position to take in the face of this opportunity. We should be focusing on the message, not the messenger.

The second argument has to do with those who believe there we will be giving up future potential extractive activities. The only potential activities mentioned are mining and fishing. However, to date, the waters around those northernmost islands have not provided a penny of economic benefit to CNMI. If there were commercially valuable stocks of fish in those waters, someone over the past few decades would have started a viable fishery. As it is, everyone who tries to do so goes bankrupt. I suppose there might be some chance in the future there could be some minerals discovered, but we have no evidence to date. A globally-recognized Mariana Trench Monument could start providing economic benefits this year and every year into the future as Dr. Iverson’s work shows. Mining, while a speculative possibility suffers from two flaws: 1) commercial deep sea mining is not currently being done anywhere in the world, and 2) the proposed monument is in federal, not Commonwealth waters. So any benefits from mining even if it were to happen 20 or 30 years down the road would be federal anyway.
If you would like a copy of Dr. Iverson's economic report titled "The Economic Impact of a proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument: An Exploratory Study" please email me at angelovillagomez at gmail dot com and I will send it to you.

There will be a public hearing on Dr. Iverson's preliminary findings tomorrow evening (Wednesday) from 6-8 PM at the American Memorial National Park auditorium. Everyone is invited.

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