Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has responded to Senate President Lolo’s letter of September 28, 2007 regarding energy policy and other issues. The full text of Faleomavaega’s letter which was copied to Senator Inouye, US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Governor Togiola, the Lieutenant Governor, the Senators, the Speaker and Representatvies, the Chairman of ASPA, the Chairman of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce, and the Chairman of the Territorial Energy Office.
Dear Mr. President:
This is in reference to your letter dated September 28, 2007 in which you requested my assistance to “identify proven alternative energy technology for possible replication in the Territory,” and which you also suggest that the federal government just is not doing its part to build American Samoa’s economic infrastructure.
While I appreciate your concerns, your inquiry once again suggests a disjointed effort on the part of our local government to address issues that are critical to the needs and well being of our people particularly since there is no mention in your letter of a concerted effort between the Governor and the Fono to combat rising electricity rates in the Territory, and given that neither the Senate nor the House have offered up any local proposals or bills to address the problems you so frequently write about.
Because our local government, including the Senate over which you preside, has taken no action to address economic development, I am perplexed as to why you believe the federal government is not doing enough. Our people know full-well that the federal government sends over $1 billion every seven years for the well-being of about 68,000 residents of American Samoa. Our people are also aware that the real problem is not a lack of federal funds but a lack of proper management and accountability for those funds.
Regarding recently imposed minimum wage legislation, you have suggested to our people that I am the cause of automatic escalator clauses, but you are wrong, and I would suggest you familiarize yourself with our minimum wage history before making careless accusations that are untrue. At no time have I supported escalator clauses. What I do, and did, support is a one-time increase of $0.50 per hour for our lowest paid workers who have been underpaid for too long while the CEOs of Del Monte and Heinz have been paid multi-million dollar salaries and lived off the backs of our people who have barely been able to make ends meet. While it is your right to begrudge our cannery workers an extra $0.50 cents per hour, I stand by my position that our canneries are obliged, like you and I, to do unto others as they would have done unto them. Everyone in our Territory knows this is what the Good Book teaches, and we also know that our economy will not collapse over a one-time minimum wage increase for the poor.
Our people also know that at my request the minimum wage law included a provision to possibly end escalator clauses based on the outcome of a US Department of Labor study. I believe the study is necessary to give us a true indication of where we are and where we need to be. Once the report is submitted to Congress, I believe my colleagues will support an end to escalator clauses.
Regarding my record in Congress, I have worked at the federal level to give ASG the tools, building blocks, and advantages it needs to move our Territory forward. For instance, for the American Samoa Government, I make sure that $23 million is annually appropriated by Congress for the operations of our local government. Although no other State or Territory receives federal funds for the operations of its local government, I also work to make sure that an additional $10 million is sent to ASG every year supposedly for the Governors and the Fono to develop ASG’s infrastructure which is the foundation of our local economy. More than $150 million has been sent for this purpose in the past 15 years.
For our students and teachers, I work to make sure that American Samoa continues to receive, per capita, more federal dollars for education than any other State or Territory yet our local government claims there is not enough money to pay our teachers what they deserve.
For ASCC, I worked to put in place a state-of the art computer lab and to upgrade our Trades, Industry and Technology program.
For our farmers, tilapia workshops have been set up, Sea Grant is on hand, and a Marine Science Lab is on its way.
For our poor, Medicaid funding has been increased from $4 million to $8 million by 2008, plus additional funding for the cost of inflation, which eases the burdens of LBJ making better health care possible.
For our veterans and for the first time in our Territory’s history, a VA clinic valued at more than $4 million has been established which will provide $3 million or more per year in medical services for American Samoa’s warriors.
For our villages, I have worked to set aside millions of federal dollars to upgrade our roads and build seawalls to protect our lands and homes.
For Manu’a, the MV Sili, a $4 million ferry is available to transport residents and cargo. For our Department of Public Works, fire truck after fire truck has been sent at no expense to ASG. For our airport, $2 million has been set aside for the construction of an airport tower.
To save the jobs of more than 5,000 cannery workers and keep our tuna canneries in American Samoa, I have also worked to extend our 30A tax credits; opposed duty-free treatment for canned tuna from the Andean countries; fought to keep canned tuna out of the Central Free Trade agreement, protected American Samoa’s canned tuna industry from Micronesian competition; made sure tuna is treated as highly import sensitive; and worked directly with the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to keep canned tuna in the longest-phase out possible in any and all upcoming trade agreements. I am also in continued discussions with canneries in Taiwan and Thailand should our local canneries choose to leave.
You may also recall that I worked to make it possible for ASG to issue bonds exempt from State and local taxation; included $600,000 to establish the first-ever American Samoa Economic Development Advisory Commission; and included $10 million in the Jobs and Growth Reconciliation Tax Act 0f 2003. How did the Governor’s office and Fono use these funds to improve our economy? Only the Fono and the Governor’s office can answer this question, and only the Fono and Governor’s office can explain how $1 billion in federal dollars every seven years is not enough, especially when American Samoa is one of the leaders when it comes to receiving more federal aid per capita than any other State or Territory.
Regarding energy, it is disappointing to learn that there is no local plan in place by ASG to lower the cost of electricity. As you know, there is a strong correlation between escalating electricity costs and the price of crude oil. Electricity rates are subject to the volatility of market prices and that is the economic law of supply and demand. Subsequently, in order to defuse the impact of fluctuating market prices, we need to diversify our energy supply. While it is my understanding that the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) has several projects currently underway aimed at diversifying our energy supply and transitioning the Territory towards renewable energy, I am unaware of any concerted effort by the American Samoa Government to put in place a comprehensive energy plan that clearly defines a strategy to move American Samoa away from fossil fuel dependency
In my opinion, I believe an alternative energy plan would have been a better use of funds than a $20 million fiber optics project. However, I was not elected to do the Governor or the Fono’s job. I am elected to represent the people’s interest in Congress. This is why I introduced legislation which was incorporated in the House energy bill that was recently passed and submitted for Senate consideration.
For your information, two years ago, I wrote the Governor, the Fono, and ASPA leaders, stating the potential of ocean thermal energy as an alternative source of energy. As stated in my letter, “our people stand to benefit enormously if we are able to take advantage of this technology in American Samoa. Because thermal energy from the ocean generates the power in this system, we would no longer be dependent on fossil fuels for our electricity. As a result of this energy independence, we would no longer be subject to the rapidly escalating price of fuel oil and the possible disruption of our fuel supply.” Furthermore, “this natural, stable energy source would allow us to be better stewards of our environment.”
On June 22, 2007, I introduced two bills that will add ocean thermal energy conversion to the list of eligible resources to receive funding through the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program and also extend tax credit to electricity produced from ocean thermal energy conversion. Speaker Pelosi incorporated these provisions in the House energy bill, and I thank her for her leadership in passing this important legislation. The legislation is now under consideration by the Senate.
Briefly, the House bill recognizes the value of marine renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels and provides for federal support to conduct research and development, demonstration, and commercial application to expand marine renewable energy programs. Energy programs funded under this bill may include programs that deal with ocean waves, tidal flows, ocean currents, and ocean thermal energy conversion. The bill also authorizes $50 million to institutions of higher education to conduct research and development on marine renewable energy including ocean thermal conversion. The House bill also extends tax credit to facility producing electricity from ocean thermal energy. The availability of these production incentives will facilitate progress in our pursuit of renewable energy for our people.
As I have suggested in my previous correspondence, I am hopeful that we will work hand-in-hand with the elected and appointed leaders of the Fono as well as the Governor to define a strategic plan not only for economic development, but also for energy policy.