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CNMI...Gets $2.9 million in ARRA funding from the EPA

Do you know where the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are...and why they impact you?

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Do you know where the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are...and why they impact you?

CNMI, for short, is a US territory, much like Guam, and their people's welfare is part of our global responsibility and our country's responsibility. That point was made today when I researched why the CNMI was receiving $2.9 million in ARRA funding from the EPA to improve aging water and wastewater infrastructure and protect human health and the environment.

First, I didn't know what CNMI stood for. Second, I didn't understand the need -- that parts of the island don't have fresh water supplies available 24 hours a day. Third, I didn't understand our responsibility for the people in our territories exactly.

I grew up in a "third world state"...as we used to describe our subsistence farm in the heart of Arkansas. I empathize with lack of community infrastructure. And I'm pleased that our government is finally applying funds to basic water and health infrastructure rather than escalating wars that destroy infrastructure for local populations.

But back to the Mariana Islands...

Look them up, you'll find their story interesting, and you'll know more than most of your coworkers or neighbors about these islanders, some of our fellowmen and women....

Who knows, you might even decide to take a vacation there and support their local economy!

CNMI Saipan is the largest island and capital of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, (a chain of 14 tropical islands in the western Pacific Ocean) with a total area of 120 km² (46.5 sq mi). The 2000 estimated population was 62,392.

Besides English, the indigenous Chamorro language is spoken by approximately 19 percent of the inhabitants. The island also has many other large, strongly defined lingual and ethnic groups because of the large percentage of contract workers (60% of total population, as of 2001[4]) from China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In addition, a large percentage of the island's population includes first-generation immigrants from Japan, China, and Korea, and immigrants from many of the other Micronesian islands.

Tourism has long been a vital source of the island's revenue, although the industry has undergone a serious decline since the Asian Economic Crisis of the mid-to-late 1990s. Some major airlines have since ceased regular service to the island. Some internationally-known businesses which located to Saipan are struggling, and some have gone out of business.[citation needed]

In years past, the main economic driving force in Saipan was garment manufacturing, driven largely by foreign contract workers (mainly from China). As of March, 2007[8] 19 companies manufactured garments on Saipan. In addition to many foreign-owned and -run companies, many well-known U.S. brands also operated garment factories in Saipan for much of the last three decades. Brands included Gap, Levi Strauss, Phillips-Van Heusen, Abercrombie & Fitch, L'Oreal subsidiary Ralph Lauren (Polo), Lord & Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger and Walmart.

The CNMI joined the United States in November 1986. During negotiations, the CNMI and the USA agreed that the CNMI would be exempted from certain federal laws, including some concerning labor and immigration. One result was an increase in hotels and tourism. However, dozens of garment factories also opened; clothing manufacture became the island's chief economic force, employing thousands of foreign contract laborers while labeling their goods "made in the U.S.A." to supply the U.S. market with low cost garments exempt from US import tariffs.

So you probably have clothing in your closet that was made in the Northern Mariana Islands. You might recall that there was a scandal regarding these garment factories and how they treated their employees in recent years...

Currently, there are no garment manufacturers on the island, with the last one closing in February, 2009. On November 28, 2009, the federal government is scheduled to take control of immigration to the Northern Mariana Islands. It is unknown what effect this development will have on local contract workers.

Other local issues

Despite an annual rainfall of 80 to 100 inches (2,000 to 2,500 mm), the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC), the local government-run water utility company on Saipan, is unable to deliver 24-hour-a-day potable water to its customers in certain areas. As a result, several large hotels use reverse osmosis to produce fresh water for their customers. In addition, many homes and small businesses augment the sporadic and sometimes brackish water provided by CUC with rainwater collected and stored in cisterns. Most locals buy drinking water from water distributors and use tap water only for bathing or washing.

Hence the ARRA funding for the fresh water infrastructure.

In a move that stands to create jobs, boost local economies,improve aging water and wastewater infrastructure and protect human health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $2,930,700 to CNMI. This new infusion of money provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will help the state and local governments finance many of the overdue improvements to water projects that are essential to protecting public health and the environment across the state.

"This remarkable opportunity to provide much-needed support for sustainable water and energy-efficient drinking water and wastewater systems throughout the U.S. is unprecedented," said Laura Yoshii, acting Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Pacific Southwest. "This funding will allow CNMI to address its highest water infrastructure priorities, protect human health and surface water quality, address climate change, and create critical green jobs as a foundation for a sustainable future."

CNMI will receive $1,101,700 for its wastewater construction program for the Sadog Tasi Wastewater Treatment Plant to enhance the management of wastewater, significantly reducing energy usage and operation and maintenance costs. CNMI also will receive $1,829,000 to improve its drinking water system.

An unprecedented $6 billion dollars will be awarded to fund water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the country under the Recovery Act in the form of low-interest loans, principal forgiveness and grants. At least 20% of the funds provided under the Recovery Act are to be used for green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency improvements and other environmentally innovative projects.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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