US court places under advisement motion to dismiss lawsuit against military
District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona placed under advisement the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Alternative Zero Coalition over the U.S. military’s decision to relocate U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and to conduct live-fire training on Tinian and Pagan.
Judge Manglona set a status conference for April 6, 2017.
During the hearing on Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice natural resources section trial attorney Joshua P. Wilson appeared for the military while Earthjustice counsel David L. Henkin argued for the Alternative Zero Coalition which is composed of the Tinian Women’s Association, the Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Alternative Zero Coalition has sued the U.S Department of the Navy, its secretary, the U.S. Department of Defense and its secretary for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act or APA.
The environmental group, through Henkin and local attorney Kimberlyn K. King-Hinds, has asked the court to declare the defendants in violation of the NEPA and APA for relying on the Environmental Impact Statement and the Single Environment Impact Statement to make a decision on the relocation of the Marines.
But Wilson said there is a very important reason behind the relocation, adding that the court should dismiss the lawsuit because the relocation presents a non-justiciable political question.
He said the filing of the lawsuit is also premature as the complainants are coming to the court based on a draft report that is about to be replaced by another report.
Wilson said the plan for the CNMI Joint Military Training on Tinian and Pagan is not done yet, and it is not even certain yet if it will really happen.
In an interview, Henkin said: “We feel it’s the job of the judiciary to be a watchdog over the executive branch, over the Navy, and to make sure that they are being careful and honest about the effects of bringing Marines to Guam and how it would affect the daily lives of the people in the CNMI.”
He said they are “eager for the court to move the case quickly because the Navy is not waiting — it is moving forward with its process and is eager to start construction on the facility on Guam. It is important for the court to intervene in a timely fashion when there’s still time to get the information out there that we need to protect the lives and environment here in the Marianas.”
Henkin is a Hawaii lawyer who has litigation experience against the military.
He said he got involved with the lawsuit when local groups from Saipan, Tinian and Pagan contacted Earthjustice “to see what we can do to address what the U.S. Navy has steam-rolled in the Marianas.”
According to Henkin, “At the end of the day, this is a democracy, and the military is not above the law. As the hearing made clear, ultimately where the Okinawa-based Marines go is going to be decision made by the military, but before they make that decision they need to comply with the procedures that have been established to make sure that everyone, not only the Navy, but we the people understand what the impacts of that action will be and what the alternatives are.”
He added, “We need to make sure that we the people hold the military accountable so that they won’t bring a highly destructive activity here by bombing Pagan and Tinian. We don’t need that in order to protect the nation, You don’t need to burn the village to save the village.”