The proposed CNMI Joint Military Training program addresses theater-wide training needs in the Western Pacific and serves joint and allied training needs that extend beyond the requirements of Guam-based Marines, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
DOJ Environmental & Natural Resources Division trial attorney Joshua P. Wilson said the CJMT program holds independent significance, and is designed to accomplish a range of objectives that are separate from, but complement, the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
Wilson discussed the CJMT program in the U.S. Navy’s and the U.S. Department of Defense’s memorandum in opposition to Tinian Women Association’s and three other environmental groups’ motion for summary judgment.
Wilson is counsel for the Navy, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, Defense, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who are being sued by four environmental groups for the Navy’s and Defense’s decision to relocate 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and to conduct live-training on Tinian and Pagan.
Plaintiffs Tinian Women Association, Guardians of Gani, Pagan Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing the defendants for alleged violation of National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
Wilson said the purpose for the proposed CJMT program as stated in the draft CJMT Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2015 is to “reduce joint training deficiencies for military services” in the entire Western Pacific, and is not directed solely to benefit Guam-based Marines.
He said the “purpose and need” for CJMT, as it was proposed in 2015, includes support for U.S. training relationships with allied nations, which is a key Pacific-region military goal that stands apart from the relocation of U.S. Marines to Guam.
Wilson said the plaintiffs are wrong when they argue that “in the absence of thousands of relocated Marines stationed on Guam, there would be no reason for the Navy and Defense to pursue” the training programs proposed as part of the CJMT.
He said establishing a training hub on a U.S. territory (Guam) and a U.S. commonwealth (the CNMI), where the U.S. has ultimate control over the training hub, bolsters joint and allied military readiness in the Western Pacific and it would be neither “irrational nor unwise” to pursue the CJMT in the absence of the Guam relocation.
The DOJ attorney said the CJMT program is intended to address current training deficiencies in the Western Pacific.
These deficiencies, he said, exist for the Marines currently stationed on Okinawa, and would persist for Marines relocated from Okinawa to Guam.
Addressing these needs, Wilson said, which go well beyond the immediate needs of the specific Marines relocated from Okinawa, “is an undertaking with independent utility from the relocation.”
He cited as an example that the amphibious landing and live fire maneuver area the Marines desired on the island of Pagan represented a unique and previously unavailable capability aboard a U.S. controlled facility for the Marines.
Wilson said Pagan is the only area in the CNMI that could allow for contiguous amphibious landing and live fire maneuvering area.
Wilson said the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam has clear independent utility from the joint and allied training proposed under the CJMT and will proceed regardless of whether the Navy decides to move forward with the CJMT program.
He said the U.S. and Japan have made a decision, supported by high level political commitments and a binding international agreement to station Marines in Guam instead of Okinawa.
“Thus the relocation of the Marines in itself is a major federal action that is supported by significant and independent legal and diplomatic concerns,” Wilson said.
He said the plaintiffs are wrong to contend that the training the Navy studied in its NEPA review is inadequate to allow the relocated Marines to “function as a fighting force.”
To the contrary, Wilson said, the Navy has planned for and conducted a thorough NEPA review of training in Guam and Tinian that provides the relocated Marines with the training necessary on those islands to maintain force readiness.
Wilson said the Navy’s acknowledgment that Marine Corps forces relocating from Okinawa to Guam would, as do the Marines currently on Okinawa, have to use alternate locations to accomplish requisite core competency training does not create a certainty that this additional training must or would occur in the CNMI.
He said plaintiffs’ claims that the relocated Marines must receive their training in the CNMI, and that “the Navy knew,” this, are not supported by the record, and plaintiffs’ connected action argument fails.
He said as plaintiffs acknowledge, the Navy is studying the impacts of the proposed CJMT program through a dedicated NEPA review that has already resulted in a draft EIS.
Wilson said as noted previously in their briefs, the Navy, based on comments received on the CJMT draft EIS, is reworking the draft, and a new draft EIS will be published at a later date.
Wilson said Defense has committed to studying any and all cumulative impacts projected to result from the combination Guam relocation and the CJMT as part of the ongoing NEPA process for CJMT.
Accordingly, Wilson said, plaintiffs have had—and will continue to receive—a full opportunity to participate in the administrative process, and to voice their concerns regarding the environmental impacts they raise in the complaint.
The plaintiffs recently filed a motion for summary judgment. Through their counsel, they stated, among other things, that if thousands of U.S. Marines are stationed in Guam, the northern two-thirds of Tinian will be blanketed with mortar and artillery bombardment, shattering the island’s peace.
Amphibious landing craft will invade Tinian’s beaches, destroying precious corals, said David L. Henkin of Earthjustice and Kimberlyn K. King-Hinds, who are counsels for the groups.
The groups claim that Navy and Defense have violated NEPA and APA by failing to consider the relocation efforts and potential construction of live-fire training ranges on Tinian and Pagan as “connected actions” in a single EIS.