US Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska followed through on her promise late last year to introduce legislation to mandate US Interior Department control over the Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund. A hearing on Senate Bill 2182 is set for next month in Washington, DC.
Murkowski was angered by the Interior Department’s decision last November to give the Kili/Bikini/Ejit (KBE) Council total control over money drawdowns from the trust fund. She sent a letter critical of the move to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on December 1.
The draft legislation states that Interior would have the “right of disapproval” over use of Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund money.
The new legislation would limit spending from he trust fund to five percent of the principal of the fund, based on the average market value of the fund for the previous five years. With the fund now in the $50 million range, if this legislation is approved it would result in limiting withdrawals to around $2.5 million annually — well below the recent $11 million withdrawal and last year’s KBE budget that was around $7 million.
“Our sense was that after 30 years, they (the Bikinians) should be ready to manage the funds on their own,” Interior Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech said of the Interior Department decision last November. “Our solicitors office said the traditional practice of Interior approving the budget for the (KBE) Council was not rooted in law. We didn’t have authority to do it.”
A KBE delegation is also expected to attend the hearing to voice opposition to the bill.
The hearing on the legislation is scheduled for February 6 at 10am in the Senate Dirksen building room 366.
Read more about this in the January 26, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.