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Approval for Department of Environmental Protection

Gov. Togiola Tulafono is seeking legislative approval to establish by law the territory’s Environmental Protection Agency, which currently exists through two separate executive orders issued more than two decades ago.

Under the proposed legislation, Togiola says the new department will be called the Department of Environmental Protection with “authority to regulate environmental matters with the least amount of disturbance to current operational methods”.

In a Feb. 2 cover letter to the Fono leadership which includes the proposed bill, the governor says this legislation will secure ASEPA’s position as the primary environmental authority in American Samoa by codifying its status through legislation.

“American Samoa has a fragile ecosystem; it is therefore important for us to act with prudence to protect our resources and environment,” the governor wrote. “This legislation will ensure that ASG and ASEPA have the proper tools to implement a sustainable environmental policy for the betterment of future generations.”

In essence, said Togiola, this legislation simply codifies two executive orders issued by then Gov. A.P. Lutali in 1985 and 1987, and the new bill will reinforce “Lutali’s vision of environmental protection and strengthen the practice of today; thereby giving ASEPA the legislative clout to regulate effectively.

“This codification will also ease USEPA’s concerns, mitigate the potential threat of federal government intrusion into local environmental matters and secure the continued federal funding of ASEPA,” wrote Togiola.

Among the major points to this measure:

•         Changes the name to a department and dissolves the Environmental Quality Commission;

•         Codifies environmental protection as it is currently practiced by properly allocating authority for many functions to the new department. Among those functions are sanitation inspections, drinking water monitoring, septic tank regulation and pesticide enforcement, which are currently assigned to other agencies under statute;

•         Establishes a procedure for the judicial review of emergency and non-emergency orders issued by the new department’s director;

•         Creates the office of the environmental prosecutor to ensure environmental protection remains a priority in the territory’

•         Codifies a citizen suit provision that has already been recognized by the High Court;

•         Empowers the new department to create citation programs for enforcement of its law and regulations, giving credibility to its power and creating revenue for the general fund;

•         Allows American Samoa to continue to secure grant funding from USEPA.

Togiola said he hopes the Fono supports this legislation, which sets out the steps, methods and actions the agency will take to protect the people and environment of American Samoa.

“It also ensures that American Samoa will maintain sovereignty and self-determination over its resources with minimal federal intrusion,” he wrote to the Fono leaders, who were urged to support the proposal.