A federal lawsuit by several groups, challenging the U.S. military’s buildup plans for the Mariana Islands, should be dismissed, according to the military. The Department of Defense argued the court does not have the authority to second-guess the international agreement that will shift U.S. troops from Japan to the Marianas.
The July 2016 lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of groups opposed to military training in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, asked the federal court to throw out the 2010 and 2015 records of decision for the buildup, which could stop the military’s plans for Guam as well.
As many as 5,000 U.S. Marines will relocate from Okinawa to a new base to be built in Dededo. The military plans to use some islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as well, primarily for training. The Marine relocation is part of a bilateral agreement by the United States and Japan, and Japan is helping pay for the $8 billion move.
The lawsuit states the U.S. Navy failed to evaluate the environmental impact of training on the islands of Tinian and Pagan and also failed to consider alternate locations outside the Mariana Islands, “where the Marines could accomplish their mission with fewer adverse impacts.”
Communities on Tinian would be subjected to high-decibel noise, as well as restricted access to fishing grounds, cultural sites and recreational beaches, according to Earthjustice.
Pagan would be the target of ship-to-shore naval bombardment as part of the training, which would destroy native forests and coral reefs, according to Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of: the Tinian Women's Association; Guardians of Gani, a nonprofit established to protect "Gani," which refers to the Mariana Islands north of Saipan; PaganWatch; and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The military on Jan. 20 filed its reply to the lawsuit, asking the court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.
“The decision to relocate the Marines from Okinawa to Guam is a ‘political decision already made’ by the United States Secretaries of State and Defense through a 2006 commitment to the Government of Japan, and a binding international agreement signed by the United States Secretary of State and Japan’s Foreign Minister in 2009,” the military’s response states. “Plaintiffs point to no case in which a court has exercised jurisdiction to direct an Executive Branch agency to reconsider a course of Executive action that is the subject of a binding international agreement.”
The reply states the plaintiffs in the case cannot demand that the Navy “reconsider the fundamental strategic and diplomatic premise of the United States’ international agreement with Japan.”
The military also stated it is premature to challenge the proposed training activity in the Northern Marianas since it still is being analyzed for environmental impact, “and may never be approved at all.”