Last week during the first national leadership meeting called by President Surangel Whipps Jr. for this 11th government, House of Delegates Speaker Sabino Anastacio announced that the House of Delegates is introducing a bill to restructure the Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB) and placing it as an office under the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and Industries (MPII).
Senate President Hokkons Baules had introduced a bill to dismantle the EQPB and allow State governments to establish their own EQPBs, an idea which was questioned on the basis that few of the 16 states have the capacity to manage their own EQPBs, and the bill would also imply the creation of 16 more offices to take on the responsibilities which one agency is already managing.
The motivation, as expressed by Speaker Anastacio, was that the “entire HOD” believed EQPB to be inefficient and bureaucratic, and he also said that the EQPB was “too pro-environment” and not supportive of development. Earlier, in the deliberation of the FY 2021 Unified Budget, the House of Delegates had cut the budget of EQPB by 30%, but the move was compromised in the Senate and the cut was reduced to 10% and signed into law by President Surangel Whipps Jr.
The vocal Speaker had previously stated that the reduction of EQPB budget was to send a message to EQPB of their dissatisfaction with its performance. On social media, public responders claimed that it was a personal vendetta for personal projects of lawmakers rejected by EQPB.
Speaker Anastacio also made allegations that EQPB was delaying the projects in order to “omond” or to make money from the delays. The allegations, however, are contradictory as EQPB does not charge fees for delayed projects and EA/EIS contractors don’t get paid unless they produce results. Often, final payments are dependent on projects receiving EQPB permits.
EQPB’s earlier response to the budget action received harsh backlash from leadership who viewed the responses as critical of them and out of place.
In 1981 a law was enacted creating an “Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB), a semi-autonomous agency of the executive branch of the government of the Republic, to be tasked and responsible for the protection and proper conservation of quality of the environment and its resources so that sound and sustainable economic and social development proceeds in a manner that will not jeopardize Palau’s future possibilities or opportunities.”
As such, the law created a Board to oversee the agency with members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
EQPB is mandated to promulgate and execute a total of nine (9) regulations. To date, five (5) have been updated, gone through the APA process and signed by President Remengesau.
The five updated regulations include Chapter 2401-1 EARTHMOVING REGULATIONS (updated 2015), Chapter 2401-13 WASTEWATER TREATMENT AND DISPOSAL REGULATIONS (updated 2019), Chapter 2401-11 MARINE AND FRESH WATER QUALITY REGULATIONS (updated 2020), Chapter 2401-61 ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT REGULATIONS (updated 2020) and Chapter 2401-51 PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY AND DRINKING WATER REGULATIONS (updated 2021).
Under APA process, any regulations proposed must go through a 30-day review by the public including the leadership of the national government. Any objections or recommendations can be made during this period to change the regulations. If no objections or recommendations are lodged during this period, the President signs the regulations operationalizing them.
None of the five regulations that underwent the APA process received any recommendations or objections by either the House of Delegates or Senate in the past 7 years.
In addition, EQPB established a manual to streamline its permitting process called Implementation Guidance Manual which it shared with state officials and EA/EIS preparers and contractors during awareness workshops. State government officials:
Governors, Legislators, Public Land Authority and Planning Commissions were invited to the workshop on Dec. 2, 2020, which had 56 participants. EA/EIS and Contractors workshop was on Dec. 3, 2020, and had 48 participants.
OEK (national congress) has the power to conduct oversight hearings of any government agency and to review and recommend changes to regulations, but none were conducted in the last seven years with EQPB over the regulations that it implemented.
The proposals to restructure the only environmental protection agency in the country given the reasons provided by lawmakers and the current oversight processes have proven contradictory.
President Whipps advocates efficiency and effectiveness of service and the review of EQPB and its regulations against its mandate could be the logical first step to improving services.