Remengesau speaks out on Green Fees

The following article was sent by Sen. Tommy E. Remegnesau, Jr. to the media for publication. It was published Aug. 19 in Island Times and Tia Belau on Aug. 22.

THE GREEN FEE

An Investment in Our Children’s Future

The recent proposal by the President to raid the Protected Areas Network Fund has ignited a debate in our nation. This discussion is healthy for our democracy and as one of the your Senators I am writing today to explain why I strongly disagree with the President’s plan. 

First, however, it is important that we look back at the history and purpose of the Protected Areas Network to gain a better understanding of what we are talking about. With cooperation among the executive and legislative branches of the national government, as well as our traditional and state leaders, we passed the Protected Areas Network (PAN) Act of 2003. The legislation set up a framework that empowered states and local communities to designate certain land, river and sea areas for conservation within their state boundaries. Shortly after its original passage, the law was amended to provide for the collection of a “Green Fee” of $15 from tourists upon departure. This new fee was earmarked solely for the management and support of the protected areas; it has raised millions for that purpose since its implementation.

With the passage of the PAN, environmentalists across the globe hailedPalauas a progressive leader in efforts to conserve our ecosystem. But while they saw a new and bold approach to saving our environment, we saw simply a modern system for what has been our traditional way for generations. Palauans have always been environmentalists – we understand that the quality of our life is linked to the health and well-being of our ecosystem. The traditional management practices that have sustained us in the past are still in force today like the “Bul” system.

But the world we live in is becoming increasingly global and complex and our traditional methods cannot do the job alone any more. We must employ modern laws and techniques to help us in our conservation efforts, and that is where legislation like the PAN comes in.  The PAN utilizes legal protections and monetary investment to protect our resources for use by future generations. It is both an environmental and an economic roadmap forPalau’s future.

Guided by our traditional ways and the PAN legislation, local communities across the island came together to study and to nominate areas to be protected. With input from traditional and elected leaders, as well as businessmen, fishermen, farmers, environmentalists and others, new PAN sites have been created and the network of protected areas is growing. Every day tourists pay an extra $15 when they leavePalauto help preserve the natural wonders that they have seen on their trip here. International organizations are pitching in to help with what they see as a promising and sustainable way to conserve our natural resources. The Green Fee is used as a matching fund for international funding donations. All of these components are working together to make the PAN a reality – the goose that lays the golden egg.

Now, however, in spite of this success and positive momentum, the President has introduced legislation that will undermine the integrity of the PAN by redirecting the Green Fee money to address the budget shortfall of the national government. I strongly disagree with this proposal. IfPalauuses the Green Fee money for anything other than managing these protected areas, then the network will likely fall apart. Local communities will see their efforts go to waste, for without funding the protected areas cannot be managed or sustained. Tourists will quickly spread the word thatPalauis ripping off its visitors in the name of environmentalism. And international environmental organizations will likely withdraw their valuable support for our efforts.

The President’s plan must be rejected because it sacrifices sound environmental policies, which help produce sustainable economic benefits for everyone, for a temporary budget injection. The last thing we should do is dismantle a program that assures long-term support for our environment and our economy.

These are some tough economic times we are experiencing and our national budget is strained. To address our budget requirements we need to work together to create and expand appropriate sources of revenue, while instituting common-sense cuts in government spending, like the salaries of high government officials. We must also prioritize available funds toward key programs and services. These common sense cuts must be part of an overall plan to reduce the cost of government operations and ensure accountability of governmental expenditures. In the end, meaningful actions to address the budget shortfall of the national government must be a combination of additional revenue generation and cost reduction measures.

The current global economic condition is bad but will not last forever.Palaumust emerge from it with our values intact, our natural treasures protected, and our economy poised to grow for the long term. The Green Fee is a down-payment on a more prosperous and promising future for our children and future generations. We must not cash it in for a cheap short-term and short-sighted gain.

/s/Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.

Senator

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