By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Guam Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory demands have been increasing, yet it has limited staff to enforce the growing number of environmental laws, according to Sen. Sabina Perez.
GEPA is experiencing a critical staffing shortage that will be exacerbated by the anticipated retirement of key employees in the coming years, Perez said.
"The lack of new workers combined with the loss of institutional knowledge poses a serious threat to our environmental protections,” she added. "The protection of the health of our environment and people have increased significantly due to expansion of environmental laws, increased permitting applications for construction projects and increased incidences of violations, such as illegal dumping."
At Monday's budget deliberation, Perez offered amendments to the 2023 appropriations bill to increase funding for the agency to address critical staffing shortages.
“It is essential to make the investments into the leading agency that ensures compliance of laws that protect the environment that sustains us," she said.
One of Perez's amendments would increase the appropriation for GEPA by $470,574 to enable the agency to hire, retain and train employees, and purchase equipment, supplies and services to support enforcement actions, and for increasing hazard protection.
Another amendment appropriated $2 million for the Guam Waterworks Authority Sewer Loan Revolving Fund to facilitate sewer connections.
"Current eligibility requirements include applicants must be a Guam resident, owner of the property not currently connected to the public wastewater collection system, and must have proof of being declined for financing to fund their sewer project from at least two Guam banks supported with a declination notice/letter from the banks," Perez said.
GWA is proposing changes to increase the maximum loan amount, decreasing or reducing loan declinations if the applicant is receiving public assistance and other terms to help defray costs, pending approval by USEPA.
In its March 2021 report titled "The Cesspool and Septic Tank Elimination Study," GWA prioritized sewer connections in areas that are projected to exceed the midpoint of the nitrate maximum contaminant levels of 10 mg/L by 2029.
"Such occurrence will trigger additional requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and will result in an increase in GWA’s operational costs and rates to consumers," Perez said.
"If nitrate levels are allowed to continue to rise beyond that, GWA may have to remove wells from service or install treatment, again at the expense of ratepayers, in order to be in compliance with the law and protect public health. “It is important to take proactive measures to protect our aquifer, which supplies over 80 percent of our drinking water, and the health of our people,” she added.
Soil and Water Conservation District's appropriation increased by $100,000 to continue efforts of connecting the protection of Guam’s watersheds and natural resources with increasing food security by providing technical assistance to farmers.
“The Soil and Water Conservation District recognizes that healthy, fertile soil and clean water are the basis for nutrition and sustenance,” Perez said. “With the number of farms more than tripling within the last fifteen years, it is important to integrate conservation with farming by supporting SWCD’s efforts,” added Senator Perez