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Ron W.
Democrat OR

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Ron Wyden

    Posted on 2013-02-07

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    WYDEN (for himself and Ms. Murkowski) (by request): S. 256. A bill to amend Public Law 93-435 with respect to the Northern Mariana Islands, providing parity with Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.



    Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce, with my colleague Lisa Murkowski, the Ranking Member on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and at the request of the Delegate from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island, CNMI, Gregorio ``Kilili'' Sablan, legislation to amend Public Law 93-435, the Territorial Submerged Lands Act. This legislation would convey to the CNMI the same rights to offshore waters and submerged lands that were conveyed to the territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa nearly 40 years ago.

    This bill is non-controversial. In 2005, it was first introduced by then-Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Pete Domenici. A companion measure was introduced in [[Page S525]] the House of Representatives by then-Congressman Jeff Flake. In the 111th Congress, this bill passed the House as H.R. 934 on a 416-0 vote, and it was reported by the Senate Committee. In the 112th Congress, it again passed the House unanimously, on a 297-0 vote, and a hearing was held in the Senate on its companion measure, S. 590. I sincerely hope that this will be the year this bill is signed into law and the people of the CNMI will begin to enjoy the economic benefits that will result from gaining ownership of the waters and submerged lands adjacent to their shores, just as those benefits are enjoyed by every other State and territory of the Nation.

    The CNMI faces huge economic challenges that began with the phase-out of World Trade Organization garment quotas in 2005 and resulted in the departure of garment manufacturing. Gaining ownership of the waters and submerged lands adjacent to the 14 islands of the CNMI would help to stimulate the CNMI's struggling economy by allowing the use and management of these areas for near-shore infrastructure development, the extraction of minerals, energy development, aquaculture and other activities. Currently, under Federal ownership, there are no such activities in these areas because the Federal Government has no history of such near-shore jurisdiction and there is no Federal agency with responsibility for their management.

    Congress granted the States ownership of the waters and submerged lands out to three miles under the Submerged Lands Act of 1953. In 1974, Congress granted ownership of these areas to the territories. However, the Covenant which established the political union between the U.S. and the CNMI in 1976 was ambiguous on this matter of seaward ownership. Eventually, in 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the submerged lands and waters off the CNMI's coasts fell under Federal ownership. Importantly, the Court also recognized that Congress had the power to convey these waters and lands to the CNMI. That is what this legislation would do.

    The CNMI is the only territory or State that does not have ownership of its adjacent waters and lands out to at least 39les. I urge my colleagues to support prompt passage of this bill to correct this disparity and to assist the CNMI in meeting its economic challenges. I'm not aware of any policy objections to this bill's enactment.

    I refer those interested in additional information to Senate Report 111-197. Included in that report is a CBO estimate stating that enactment of H.R. 934, the bill on which the legislation being introduced today is based, would not affect direct spending or revenues.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill and a letter of support be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: S. 256 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. AMENDMENT.

    (a) In General.--The first section and section 2 of Public Law 93-435 (48 U.S.C. 1705, 1706) are amended by inserting ``the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,'' after ``Guam,'' each place it appears.

    (b) References to Date of Enactment.--For the purposes of the amendment made by subsection (a), each reference in Public Law 93-435 to the ``date of enactment'' shall be considered to be a reference to the date of the enactment of this section.

    ____ Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, Washington, DC, January 8, 2013.

    Hon. Ron Wyden, Chairman, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 304 Dirksen Senate Building, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

    Dear Chairman Wyden: One of the legislative issues for this Congress that we discussed at our recent meeting was the conveyance of submerged lands to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. I would like to follow up on our discussion by asking you to consider sponsoring the necessary legislation.

    The Energy and Natural Resources Committee did report out a conveyance bill in the last Congress, H.R. 670 as amended, but time expired before the Senate could act on the measure. With this groundwork in place it would seem that this particular issue could be moved quickly as the 113th Congress gets to work.

    I am enclosing a draft bill, which reflects the Energy and Natural Resources Committee amendments. I have reached out to Senator Murkowski, as well, asking her to co-sponsor the legislation, as she did with Chairman Bingaman two years ago; and I am hopeful that this bipartisanship can prevail again.

    In the House I will also be introducing the language recommended by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, though the Senate may well be able to act first.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request. Thank you, too, for having taken the time to meet with me to discuss issues of importance to the Northern Mariana Islands that may come before your Committee in the 113th Congress. I look forward to working with you.

    Sincerely, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, Member of Congress.

    ______ By Mr. UDALL of New Mexico: S. 259. A bill to assure equity in contracting between the Federal Government and small business concerns, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

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