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Green energy type programs will be included in final scope of work for ARPA infrastructure projects

Keith Gebauer

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Infrastructure project proposals for funding under American Samoa’s share of the $479 million federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 will be required to comply with a provision of the statute addressing climate change, says ASG’s ARPA Oversight Office executive director Keith Gebauer during a recent Senate Rules Committee hearing.

Prioritizing of projects to be funded with ARPA money that American Samoa has already received from the US Treasury Department was approved by the governor and lieutenant governor.  And the territory’s performance report, which outlined all these projects and allocated funds was submitted in July to the federal grantor, and posted to the ARPA Oversight Office website as well as copies distributed during the Senate hearing.

Samoa News has received a few queries from the public on whether there are plans by the Lemanu Administration to included at a later time, projects that address climate change — which is an issue that has raised concerns from many small Pacific island countries.

And this same issue was raised by Sen. Satele Ali’itai Lili’o during the Senate committee hearing when he told Gebauer that while all approved funded projects are important, there’s no funding allocated to address climate change,  which is an issue that US President Biden had said recently is “very, very important”.

The Vaifanua senator observed that there’s money allocated — according to the performance report — for infrastructure projects, but nothing specifically to address climate change, an issue that is important to American Samoa which is surrounded by ocean. He informed Gabauer of his belief that climate change is tied into COVID-19.

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” was Gebauer’s response and he explained that “although it’s not expressly written in there — under the $300 million as an example — if a new hospital is constructed, the building has to comply with certain climate change or green energy type programs.”

“So, whether that is solar panels or certain kinds of things that are climate change friendly, that are green energy friendly — those are all things that will be included in the final scope of work that’s going to be required of these infrastructure projects,” he explained further.

Gebauer also said that the “language of the statute is pretty clear — it encourages and emphasizes green energy projects for climate change for consideration for any project that is undertaken.”

“So that will be built into every single proposal, that will be for every single category, as a requirement for any proposal to be submitted,” he added.

Responding to a question from another senator, Gebauer said funding allocations for projects came about because of the priorities approved and decided upon by the governor and lieutenant governor.  “And that is for planning and budgeting purposes,” he added.

Gebauer went on to reveal that, if six months from now, a year from now and one of the project categories — after the scope of work is completed and it is determined that it’s only going to cost $250 million — any money that is not used for a project can be put back in to be re-allocated to an eligible use project.

“But for the initial planning that American Samoa submitted to our federal grantor, for our intended use of these funds, this is how this came to be,” he said.

Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet, was joined by other senators, arguing that the Fono had no input in prioritizing projects for funding, saying that lawmakers and their constituents might have different priorities than those cited in the performance report as decided by the Administration.

“This is just the allocation based on the governor and lieutenant governor’s approved plan for planning and budgeting purpose,” Gebauer responded. “There are many categories within here, that I believe will still be able to meet some of your priorities or areas you feel we need to focus in on.”

He explained that his office — which at the time of the committee hearing was a one-man office with the hope of hiring staff soon — had a very short period of time to prepare the report and submit it to the federal grantor as required.

While the ARPA law was enacted in March 2021, Gebauer’s office was only established in mid June by the governor’s order, and the first performance report was due before the end of July.