Madam Chair and members of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss H.R. 934. I am Nikolao Pula, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs.
H.R. 934 would give the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) authority over its submerged lands from mean high tide seaward to three geographical miles distant from its coast lines.
The Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
in Political Union with the United States of America defines the unique relationship between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, recognizing U.S. sovereignty but limiting, in some respects, the applicability of federal law. Under the Covenant, the submerged lands off the coasts of the Northern Mariana Islands did not transfer to the CNMI when the Covenant came into force. This was subsequently confirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court in the case of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands v. the United States of America.
As a result, CNMI does not own the submerged lands within three miles of its shores, unlike the states and territories that have been granted submerged lands by the Submerged Lands Act and the Territorial Submerged Lands Act, respectively. Consequences of this decision are that CNMI cannot authorize and control the development of the natural resources or enforce its laws within these three miles.
The Department of the Interior, therefore, supports enactment of H.R. 934.