Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that Chairman Wayne T. Gilchrest and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. of the Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans have joined him in writing both Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to intervene with the implementation of Emergency Support Function (EMS) 11 of the National Response Plan for American Samoa.
“On February 18, 2005, President Bush declared American Samoa as a federal disaster area after the devastation caused by Hurricane Olaf. Such a designation triggers Federal assistance as specified under the National Response Plan developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Pursuant to Emergency Support Function 11 (ESF 11) of this plan, Governor Togiola Tulafono requested assistance to address disaster impacts on American Samoa’s natural resources, particularly impacts on coral reef resources. However, FEMA denied Governor Togiola’s request and challenged the existence of ESF 11,” Faleomavaega said.
“On May 5, 2005, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, joined with me in writing to Secretary Norton and Secretary Gutierrez regarding this matter and I thank them for their support. In our letters, we asked the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce to engage with Secretary Michael Chertoff of Homeland Security and reassert the position of the Coral Reef Task Force (CRTF) which provides assistance pertinent to natural resource damage and recovery.”
“On June 11, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order #13089 to lead U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems,” the Congressman continued. “Executive Order 13089 established the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force which is ‘responsible for preserving and protecting the biodiversity, health, heritage, and social and economic value of all U.S. coral reef ecosystems.’ The Task Force is co-chaired by both the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce and includes membership from other federal and related agencies.”
“In October 2003, at its 10th meeting held in Guam and CNMI, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force by way of CRTF Resolution 7 tackled the issue of the creation of an Emergency Support Function to address an emergency response for the environmental impacts caused by natural disasters. In December 2004, the Department of Homeland Security included measures to provide assistance for damage and recovery.”
“For FEMA to now challenge the existence of CRTF Resolution 7 and deny American Samoa assistance for the destruction of our natural resources is unjust,” Faleomavaega said. “The damage afflicted to our islands by Hurricane Olaf is real and immediate. The ocean and the coral habitats that surround our islands continue to be a haven for biodiversity and our economy is intricately linked with our fisheries.”
“The refusal of field representatives of DHS and FEMA to provide assistance under EMS 11 is harmful to our recovery and an affront to the CRTF. Given Secretary Norton and Secretary Gutierrez’s responsibilities as co-chairs of the CRTF, I am hopeful that they will intervene in this matter and rectify this error at the earliest possible date,” the Congressman concluded.