9th Circuit: No need to bomb NMI islands

Posted on Sep 21 2020


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense’s plan to relocate U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam correctly assessed the environmental impact of the plan but also pointed out that there is no need to bomb Tinian and Pagan in the name of national security.

The ruling states that Marines do not need to stage massive live-fire war games on the islands of Tinian and Pagan, that the Marines can conduct “their required training elsewhere” outside the Mariana Islands. The court further concluded that, “[w]hile it may be more convenient for the Marines to have these training facilities closer [to Guam], there is no evidence showing they must be.”

An estimated 5,000 U.S. Marines and their families are set to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam as part of U.S. military treaty obligations under the U.S.-Japan Alliance Agreement. As part of that agreement, it is being proposed that the Marines will conduct live-fire training in some islands of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The court’s decision rejected a challenge by the Tinian Women Association, Guardians of Gani’, PåganWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity—represented by Earthjustice—to the environmental impact statement that the U.S. Navy prepared for the relocation. The groups sued in federal court in 2016, claiming that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to disclose the impacts of Guam-based Marines training with artillery, mortars, rockets, amphibious assaults, attack helicopters and warplanes on Tinian and Pagan and subjecting Pagan to ship-to-shore shelling and aerial bombardment.

In ruling for the Navy, the court relied on the Navy’s claims that Marines stationed in Guam do not need to conduct that highly destructive training in the CNMI to perform their national security mission. 

“The court in its decision [Friday] accepted the Navy’s word that Guam-based Marines don’t need to bomb the islands of Tinian and Pågan,” said Earthjustice lawyer David Henkin, who represented the community groups. “The Navy claimed Marines can conduct highly destructive live-fire training elsewhere, rather than destroy the lives of Americans who live on Tinian, and rather than turn Pagan into a war zone, rendering it uninhabitable. If the Navy proceeds with plans to bomb those islands anyway, it will have a lot of explaining to do.”

The Navy promised the court that it will prepare a separate EIS—called the CNMI Joint Military Training—to disclose the impacts of proposed training on Tinian and Pagan. The Navy issued a draft CJMT EIS in 2015, but withdrew the draft in February 2016 in response to an outpouring of public protest. The Navy initially promised to release a revised draft CJMT EIS by March 2017, with the promised release date then slipping to late 2018 or early 2019. To date, the Navy has yet to release its revised plans for training in the CNMI. 

“Pagan is too beautiful to bomb,” said Cinta Kaipat of PaganWatch. “We will not allow the Navy to turn our homeland into a live-fire training wasteland.” 

“We are not giving up on hope, and we will continue to fight to save our islands,” said Juanita Mendiola of Tinian Women Association. “This decision makes clear that the Navy has no justification to engage in destructive activities on the islands of Pagan and Tinian that would sacrifice our children’s futures.” 

Tinian is a small island with a population of just over 3,000. Currently, the only live-fire training conducted there is limited to a sniper target range. No live-fire training currently takes place on Pagan.

“Our islands and the ocean that surrounds them are our cultural legacy,” said Gen Cabrera of Guardians of Gani’. “We will endeavor, by all means, to continue to practice our heritage of responsible stewardship.”

Japan has pledged $6 billion to support the relocation. (PR)

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