For the Record
United States Department of the Interior
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
S. 256 – to convey submerged lands to the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
April 25, 2013
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, the Department of the Interior is pleased to provide this statement for the record in support of enactment of legislation that would convey the three geographical miles of submerged lands adjacent to the Northern Mariana Islands to the Government of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Administration would strongly support this bill if amended to address the issues outlined below.
The bill is intended to give the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) authority over its submerged lands from mean high tide seaward to three geographical miles distant from its coast lines.
It has been the position of the Federal Government that United States submerged lands around the Northern Mariana Islands did not transfer to the CNMI when the Covenant came into force.This position was validated in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in the case of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands v. the United States of America.One consequence of this decision is that CNMI law enforcement personnel lack jurisdiction in the territorial waters surrounding the islands of the CNMI without a grant from the Federal Government.
At present, the CNMI is the only United States territory that does not have title to the submerged lands in that portion of the United States territorial sea that is three miles distant from the coastline.It is appropriate that the CNMI be given the same authority as her sister territories.
Second, on January 6, 2009, by presidential proclamation, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was created, including the Islands Unit, comprising the submerged lands and waters surrounding Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, the northernmost islands of the CNMI.While creation of the monument is a historic achievement, it should be remembered that the leaders and people of the CNMI were and are these three islands' first preservationists.They included in their 1978, plebiscite-approved constitution the following language:
ARTICLE XIV: NATURAL RESOURCES
Section 1: Marine Resources.The marine resources in the waters off the coast of the Commonwealth over which the Commonwealth now or hereafter may have any jurisdiction under United States law shall be managed, controlled, protected and preserved by the legislature for the benefit of the people.
Section 2: Uninhabited Islands. . . .The islands of Maug, Uracas, Asuncion, Guguan and other islands specified by law shall be maintained as uninhabited places and used only for the preservation and protection of natural resources, including but not limited to bird, wildlife and plant species.
It is important to note that the legislature has never taken action adverse to the preservation of these northern islands and the waters surrounding them.The people of the CNMI are well aware of their treasures.CNMI leaders consented to creation of the monument because they believed that the monument would bring Federal assets for marine surveillance, protection, and enforcement to the northern islands that the CNMI cannot afford.
If enacted as introduced, S. 256 would become a public law enacted subsequent to the creation of the monument.S. 256's amendments to the Territorial Submerged Lands Act would convey to the CNMI the submerged lands surrounding Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion without addressing the effect of this conveyance on the administrative responsibilities of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce.Presidential Proclamation 8335 assigned management responsibility of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument to the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Commerce.The proclamation further states that the "Secretary of Commerce shall have the primary management responsibility…with respect to fishery-related activities regulated pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 1801 et seq.) and any other applicable authorities."The proclamation provides that submerged lands that are granted to the CNMI "but remain controlled by the United States under the Antiquities Act may remain part of the monument" for coordinated management with the CNMI.As envisioned by the Presidential Proclamation establishing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the Administration is proposing an amendment to ensure that the outstanding resources in the waters surrounding the CNMI's three northernmost islands remain protected.Thus, the Administration recommends that language be included in S. 256 referencing the coordination of management contemplated within the Proclamation prior to the transfer of the submerged lands within the Islands Unit of the monument to the CNMI.This language is intended to protect the Islands Unit of the monument and at the same time acknowledge the prescient and historic conservation effort of the leaders and people of the CNMI in protecting Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, and their surrounding waters.
The Administration recommends that S. 256 include an amendment to subsection (b) of section 1 of the Territorial Submerged Lands Act, Public Law 93-435, 48 U.S.C. 1705, as follows:
(xii) any submerged lands within the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument unless or until such time as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands enters into an agreement with the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce for the permanent protection and co-management of such portion of the Islands Unit.
The Department of the Interior strongly supports S. 256 if it is amended to include the legislative language provided.The Department of the Interior looks forward to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands gaining rights in surrounding submerged lands similar to those accorded her sister territories.