A picture of Representative Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan
Gregorio S.
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  • Territorial Sea

    by Representative Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

    Posted on 2013-02-06

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    SABLAN of the commonwealth of the northern mariana islands in the house of representatives Wednesday, February 6, 2013 Mr. SABLAN. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a bill that will return to the people of the Northern Marianas ownership of the three [[Page E107]] miles of submerged lands surrounding each of our islands. In doing so, this bill also puts the management of these lands back in the hands of those who have the greatest interest in protecting the natural resources there and in developing their economic potential--the people of the Northern Mariana Islands.

    I say ``return'' because, until 2005, we believed we owned these lands around our islands; and we cared for them accordingly. But in 2005 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that--unlike the case for every other coastal state and territory in our Nation--the submerged lands and waters off our shores did not belong to us, but rather belonged to the federal government.

    The Court did acknowledge in its ruling that Congress had the authority to convey these lands to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; and it is that authority that my bill would exercise.

    We have been here before. In three previous Congresses legislation has been offered to provide the same ownership of submerged lands to the Northern Mariana Islands as is enjoyed by American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2005 Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona-- now Senator Jeff Flake--introduced H.R. 4255 for this purpose. And in 2009, when for the first time the people of the Northern Mariana Islands themselves were represented in this House, I introduced H.R. 934, conveying these lands. That bill passed the House without dissent, 416-0, in July of 2009, but died in the Senate. Again in 2011 I introduced this legislation, as H.R. 670. Again the House passed the bill without dissent, 397-0. Again the Senate failed to act, although the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a companion measure, S. 590, sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman and Senator Lisa Murkowski.

    In each Congress each bill introduced on this issue has progressed farther down the legislative track.

    I hope the fourth time proves to be the charm.

    We know from past action that this House supports local control of these local resources in the Northern Mariana Islands. The Obama Administration has testified in favor of the conveyance. And I can attest that my constituents desire equivalent treatment to other U.S. coastal jurisdictions. So, we just have to give the other body one more opportunity to join in this wide agreement.

    Let me add that the cost of the measure I have introduced is nothing and that Congress has the Constitutional authority to enact this bill-- two threshold questions that we must always answer.

    And let me thank the hundreds of Members who voted in favor of this conveyance in the 111th and 112th Congresses and all those Members who are original co-sponsors of today's measure, which provides the right of ownership and responsibility of management for submerged lands and waters to the Northern Mariana Islands that every other coastal area of our Nation enjoys.


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