U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ruled yesterday that the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of the Navy did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act or the Administrative Procedure Act when they decided to relocate U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam—as alleged by the Tinian Women Association and three other environmental groups.
Manglona found that the Defense and Navy’s decision to limit the training and range areas to those that meet the needs of the Marines being relocated to Guam “was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion.”
“The decision was rationally and reasonably based on a consideration of the factors relevant to complying with the diplomatic agreement with Japan while meeting the immediate training needs of the Marines,” said Manglona in a 41-page decision.
The judge further finds that the actions decided on in the relocation’s final environmental impact statement and supplemental environmental impact statement, and the range and training areas proposed in the CNMI Joint Military Training Environmental Impact Statement Draft EIS are not connected actions.
The Tinian Women Association, Guardians of Gani, Pagan Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing the Navy and the Defense and their top officials for alleged violation of NEPA APA over their decision to relocate 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and to conduct live-training on Tinian and Pagan.
The lawsuit involves a procedural challenge to the Defense and the Navy’s decisions to relocate thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam and to build training and base facilities on Guam and Tinian that are necessary to meet their needs.
Both parties then filed a motion for summary judgment.
The four environmental groups sought a ruling that these final decisions violated the NEPA.
NEPA requires agencies to assess the environmental consequences of all proposed major federal actions in environmental impact statements so that the public understands what factors agencies have considered, and so that agencies consider the effects of their actions before choosing whether or not to take them.
Defense and the Navy have completed a final EIS and supplemental EIS that analyze the effects of the relocation of Marines to Guam and related rebasing and training activities in Guam and on Tinian.
The four environment groups claim that these documents are deficient because they fail to include an analysis of the environmental impacts that will stem from range and training areas on Tinian and Pagan, as separately proposed by Defense and the Navy.
Specifically, the environment groups claim that the proposed range and training areas on Tinian and Pagan and the final decisions about the relocation and training of Marines in Guam and on Tinian are “connected actions” that should have been assessed in a single EIS.
The groups also allege that the proposed range and training areas on Tinian and Pagan will add to the environmental effects resulting from the relocation of Marines to Guam, and therefore the additional effects—“cumulative impacts”—should have been addressed in the EIS relating to the relocation efforts.
Defense and the Navy contend that the decision to limit the scope of the relocation EIS to some parts of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force training was a rational choice given that the U.S. committed to removing a significant number of Marines from Okinawa as soon as possible.
Defense and the Navy argue that the CJMT proposals for Tinian and Pagan were developed to accommodate the training needs of all of the U.S. and allied forces stationed in or transiting through the Pacific Command Area of Responsibility.
In favoring Defense and the Navy, Manglona said these departments took a hard look at the specific needs of relocating Marines from Okinawa.
Manglona said both Defense and the Navy reasonably concluded that the more advanced training ranges to be used by all U.S. forces and allied forces stationed in the Pacific Command Area of Responsibility should be evaluated in a separate EIS.
Manglona also finds that the effects of the range and training areas proposed in the CJMT draft EIS could create cumulative impacts that must be addressed in conjunction with the environmental effects of the relocation action.
However, the judge said, she finds that Defense and the Navy have committed to addressing these impacts during the ongoing CJMT EIS process, and they “are ordered to do so.”