Eni asks Congressional Research Office to review local Senate resolution on Fagatele Bay expansion proposal

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni has requested the Congressional Research Service (CRS) office to review the Senate Concurrent Resolution that calls on Faleomavaega to have a  congressional review of all issues presented by NOAA’s proposal to add five sanctuary units to the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS).

This is according to the Congressman in a letter yesterday to the Fono with copies to Gov. Togiola Tulafono, Lt. Gov. Faoa Sunia and Attorney General Fepualea’i A. Ripley Jr.

Faleomavaega says he appreciates the resolution raising some critically important issues of legal, practical, and political ramifications, and he has requested the Congressional Research Service (CRS) “for their review” of this matter.

He also wrote that he and the governor discussed this matter during Togiola’s recent visit to Washington D.C., but didn’t provide any other details.

 “It is certainly my hope that NOAA will continue the consultation process with everyone, including members of the Fono,” he wrote to the Fono.  “While it is a long and cumbersome process, continuing discussions and dialogue on the proposal is essential to ensure that there is a better understanding.”

He also explained the process for revising the terms of designation and the role of Congress, adding that NOAA’s proposal is going through the vetting process that Congress established under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) for the designation of any new Sanctuary.

While NOAA’s proposal is not a new designation but an expansion of an existing Sanctuary, the same procedures under NMSA apply, he said, adding that NOAA’s proposal is also governed by the administrative rule-making and procedures stipulated by Congress under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

He said these procedures consist mainly of a public comment period to allow for input from the public and all stakeholders, especially those that are directly affected by the proposed regulations.

“It is the intent of Congress that NOAA would give these inputs much consideration in their final rule, and I am pleased that in several discussions with NOAA officials, they have assured my office that they would respond to all public comments submitted for the record,” he said.

These procedural requirements under the NMSA and APA exist to ensure that NOAA is held accountable, especially to those individuals and communities that are affected the most.

Once NOAA has reviewed all the comments, it is required by law to “publish in the Federal Register notice of the designation together with final regulations”, and to also “submit such notice to the Congress”, he said.

“Congress can ultimately nullify the final designation by introducing legislation with specific language to disapprove the new boundaries of the Sanctuary,” he points out. “In addition, it may also insert restrictive language in the annual Appropriations for the National Marine Sanctuaries program that would effectively disallow the use of funds to implement the proposed expansion at Fagatele Bay.”

In closing, Faleomavaega said he will continue to review this matter closely and will keep the Fono informed.

Full context of the letter is attached to the online version of this story on www.samoanews.com

The comment period for the proposed rule to add five new sites to the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS) ends on March 9, 2012.

Written comments can be submitted to the FBNMS office at the Commerce Department.

Comments may also be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov by clicking “Submit a Comment,” then enter NOAA-NOS-2011-0243  in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the “Submit a Comment” icon on the right of that line.

You can also view comments that have already been made on the proposal, including minutes from meetings concerning the proposal by the FBNMS on the same website.

Comment Here