Governor and U.S. EPA want CUC’s Camacho out

Arnold Palacios and David Apatang

Gov. Arnold Palacios and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency both wrote to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation to object to any planned renewal of CUC executive director Gary Camacho’s contract.

“The incumbent Executive Director, Mr. Gary Camacho, meets neither the requirements in the Stipulated Orders nor the requirements in CNMI law,” Mr. Palacios wrote in a February 17 letter to CUC chairwoman Janice Tenorio, and members Donald Browne, Allen Perez, and Frank Lee Borja. All were appointed by previous Gov. Ralph Torres.

“His contract is due to expire on or about March 26, 2023,” he wrote in the letter. “I strongly oppose any contract extension or renewal.”

Mr. Camacho has been the head of the CNMI’s utilities systems since 2017, when Mr. Torres sought a waiver from U.S. EPA to allow Camacho to be executive director though he did not meet the minimum qualifications of the Stipulated Orders. The federal court orders, brought about by the Commonwealth’s failure to comply with the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, require strict adherence to guidelines in order to bring CUC into federal law and rules compliance.

“In 2017, the United States agreed not to object to Mr. Camacho’s initial appointment on a temporary basis, with the United States stating it ‘neither objected to nor approved the waiver’ of the SO1 requirements for the Executive Director, and further cautioning that, in the future, ‘SO1 qualification requirements would be strictly adhered to and that stipulated penalties will be imposed if positions remained unfilled,’” EPA Project Coordinator (Region IX) John Tinger wrote to Ms. Tenorio in a February 15 letter. “At this time, EPA is objecting to the continuation of the waiver from SO1 requirements for the Executive Director position. Accordingly, Mr. Camacho’s contract cannot be renewed because he does not meet the minimum qualification requirements for the position of Executive Director.”

“Among CUC’s numerous challenges are the lack of a qualified Executive Director, troubling management practices and chronic noncompliance under the leadership of the current Executive Director, and the lack of a quorum among the Board of Directors,” Mr. Palacios wrote to the current CUC members.

It was in early 2022, when the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee under then-chairwoman Celina Roberto Babauta, grilled Mr. Camacho about the special treatment he granted then-Gov. Torres. Between 2017 and 2022, Mr. Torres had racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in utilities bills, was chronically late in having the Commonwealth government pay the bills, and included utilities serving a private piggery attached to his home.

Mr. Camacho insisted to the House investigative panel that CUC made no error in allowing utilities services to continue to Mr. Torres’s private home despite the governor being months late on bills that averaged thousands of dollars a month. Mr. Camacho also told the House panel that CUC reconciled Mr. Torres’s billings, with private payments made to the government to account for the piggery. The entries of the reconciliations did not match documents the panel had subpoenaed, and appeared to have been done only after the probe began.

The CUC board of directors reportedly is entertaining not only a renewal of Mr. Camacho’s contract, but a significant increase in pay.

Mr. Palacios is having none of it.

“As the new Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and now a party to the federal Stipulated Orders directing the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) to reach compliance with the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, I write to inform you of my administration’s next steps concerning CUC and to assure you of our commitment to correct CUC’s persistent violations that threaten public health and the environment,” the governor wrote in his letter to the board. “My primary objectives in the near term are to appoint new members to the CUC Board of Directors to reestablish quorum, and ensure the appointment of a new and qualified CUC Executive Director.”


  • Well, Hooray! A good and smart move by Gov. Palacios. I know, from personal experience, that Camacho does not answer letters or return phone calls. Worse, he doesn’t care.

    Also, when quoting former Gov. Torres, the phrase “with a straight face” should be added to anything he says.

  • A. C. Offagan

      02/19/2023 at 6:24 AM

    Yes! So many, many reasons why this is the wrong person for the job, but it can be summed up in one word:

    “F” is for Family connections, which is the only reason he’s there.
    “A” is for Abusive management style.
    “I” is for Incompetence as evidenced by a decade of no progress.
    “L” is for Leaks that are never found and fixed.
    “U” is for Unrelenting power and water outages.
    “R” is for Ridiculous utility rates,
    “E” is for Everyone wants him out.

    Well, maybe two words – “Power Failure” which is what Gary Camacho is. Time we fixed the problem rather than just sit in the dark waiting year after year.

  • sameshitagain

      02/23/2023 at 4:07 AM

    Yet they put in a White man who does racial profiling against mexicans in texas and had fraud charges. Known for lying, will not be good for CNMI

  • Camacho will be history on March 26, when his contract expires. An interim director has been appointed. It’s in today’s Marianas Variety, but I often forget what I read in the MV.

    Marianas Variety, “Today’s News Tomorrow!”
    Or whenever.

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