House bill 11-27-2S, HD1 that passed its 3rd and final reading last Thursday, seeks to remove the Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB) and move its functions to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment under the Executive Branch.
The bill passed the House of Delegates with 14 out of 16 voting yes and 2 delegates, Delegate Swenny Ongidobel of Ngeremlengui State and Delegate Timothy Sinsak of Ngerchelong State opposing its passage.
According to the proposed bill findings, EQPB’s current earthmoving permit process is an “impediment to the responsible economic development of Palau.” It added, “the permit process, in particular, has become cumbersome, arbitrary, opaque and unreasonably time-consuming.”
The bill also divides the permitting process into “two categories”, one of which will allow a State government to create its own environmental permitting process for residential activities. This, House of Delegates says, will streamline the permitting process.
The current law, Title 24 Palau National Code, that created EQPB as a semi-autonomous agency of the Executive Branch of the government made it responsible for “protection and proper conservation of the 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.”
To implement this mandate, EQPB enforce nine (9) following regulations,
1) Earthmoving, (2) Marine and Fresh Water Quality, (3) Toilet and Wastewater Disposal Facilities, (4) Solid Waste Management, (5) Pesticides, (6) Public Water Supply Systems, (7) Environmental Impact Statements, (8) Air Pollution Control, and (9) Ozone Depleting Substances. Out of the 9 regulations, all have been updated within the last year with the remaining 3 pending final approval of the President. The regulations undergo the APA process which provides the public and national leadership 30 days to review, comment, and make recommendations on the proposed regulations.
Some felt that the regulations are too strict and that it deters development in Palau.
EQPB has been in the crosshairs of the House of Delegates when earlier this year it sought to cut about a third of its budget. Speaker Sabino Anastacio unapologetically said that EQPB was a hindrance to economic development.
EQPB has attempted to reduce the delay in issuance of permits cutting the number of days to 2 weeks but some projects, particularly larger developments such as hotels and resorts, have taken longer due to stringent environmental requirements such as Environmental Impact Statements. I
EQPB served for decades as Palau’s only environmental protection agency, in charge of ensuring a healthy environment, land, water, and air for Palau’s generations to come.
The proposed bill will be transmitted to Senate for its review and deliberation.