Bills introduced to strengthen GEPA enforcement; Tenorio comments on Marbo Cave

Marbo Cave's freshwater pool is overrun by stormwater and mud. (Viewer submitted photo)

Speaker Therese Terlaje has introduced Bill 165-36, co-sponsored by Senator Sabina Flores Perez, which aims to enhance the Guam Environmental Protection Agency’s (GEPA) enforcement by removing the caps on fines for civil penalties for Guam soil erosion and sediment violations.

Senator Perez also introduced Bill 166-36, co-sponsored by Speaker Therese Terlaje, which seeks additional funding in order to expand the enforcement capacity of Guam Environmental Protection Agency (GEPA).

The two bills come in the wake of GEPA’s findings of stormwater runoff and mud erosion on Marbo Cave’s pristine freshwater pools.

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In the past decades, Terlaje said the regulatory demands on GEPA to enforce laws that ensure the protection of the health of our environment and people have increased significantly due to the expansion of environmental laws, increased permitting applications for construction projects, and increased incidences of violations, such as illegal dumping.

“GEPA is experiencing a staffing shortage that will be exacerbated by the anticipated retirement of key employees within the next three years. The lack of new workers combined with the loss of institutional knowledge poses a serious threat to our environmental protections. Increasing regulatory capacity is urgently needed through recruitment and retention of qualified staff and evaluating pay scales to determine equity within the agency and to match those in the private sector or federal government,” the Speaker said.

According to 11 GCA Ch. 28 § 28112 20% of use tax collected in the previous fiscal year shall be appropriated to the Guam Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Cleanup Fund to cover the costs associated with preserving Guam’s natural resources. “This source of funding can assist GEPA in monitoring compliance and in the prevention of environmental damage,” said Senator Perez.

“These bills will ensure the protection of our aquifer and other natural resources from blatant and egregious disregard for Guam’s environmental laws,” added Speaker Terlaje. “Harms done to the environment are harms done to our people and should be punished to the highest extent.”

Senator Perez said: “Both Bill 165-36 and Bill 166-36 are essential to support GEPA as part of a coordinated response amongst our agencies, policymakers, and community. Our natural environment is a precious resource, but it is fragile, and we must always make a collective effort to protect our environment for us and our future generations.”

Meanwhile, Acting Governor Joshua Tenorio issued the following statement regarding the status of Marbo Cave:

“I am troubled and appalled to see the current state of Marbo Cave, one of our island’s most precious natural landmarks,” said Acting Governor Tenorio. “While the citation issued by the Guam Environmental Protection Agency is a significant initial step towards addressing the issue, it is important that we move quickly and decisively to reverse the damage. It is critical that the entities responsible are held accountable for their reckless and negligent actions, and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect and preserve these invaluable land and water resources for the use of our people and future generations.”