On April 22, Earth Day, several groups gathered outside St. Patrick’s Church in San Francisco demanding a halt to US military expansion on the Pacific island of Guam. Their voices join recent EPA concerns that the Department of Defense’s plan will have devastating impacts on 71 acres of coral reef and fails to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The plan will threaten the habitat of thousands of species of marine life, including endangered species such as green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle and spinner dolphin. At a time of economic recession and mounting national debt, the US base expansion on Guam will be one of the largest buildups in recent history, costing US taxpayers an estimated $9 Billion. On Earth Day, San Franciscans witnessed the release of a letter signed by 100 environmentalists, scholars, community and religious leaders who are calling on the White House and the Council on Environmental Quality to halt the build-up.
The Environmental Protection Agency, in its evaluation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), gave the plan the worst possible rating, calling it “inadequate” and “insufficient,” and stating that the impacts of dredging on the high quality coral reefs of Apra Harbor “are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed.” The proposed build up, would bring 79,000 more people to Guam, increasing the population of 173,456 by 47%. According to the EPA, the plan fails to adequately address the impact of this population increase on the water supply and wastewater treatment on Guam, creating adverse public health impacts.
Environmental research organizations, such as the Center for Biological Diversity stated in their public comment: “The Navy has failed to meet the statutory requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality…. because it improperly limited the scope of the DEIS and failed to include sufficient information on alternatives, impacts to cultural resources and social justice issues, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”
“Our communities in Guam are counting on us to be a voice for them in Washington,” says Erica Benton, a local bay area resident with family ties to Guam and a member of Famoksaiyan, a group which voices concerns for Guam and Chamorros in the diaspora. “The island is an unincorporated territory of the US, which basically means they cannot vote for US presidents and only have a non-voting delegate in Congress. We hope our leaders here in California take a stand with us, and for the environment.”
“This Earth Day, we have to address that the military is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, and the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. The massive build up on Guam directly contradicts efforts to protect our environment from global warming,” says Reverend Deborah Lee, a member of Women for Genuine Security, the local chapter of a global women’s network that works to protect the health and safety of communities around US military bases. “The US military has an enormous carbon footprint which must be addressed for the health of local communities and the security of our entire planet.”
As the largest Chamorro population outside of Guam resides in California, groups are calling on California Congressional Representatives and President Obama to:
2) Before the DOD goes forward, require a rewrite of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, with an appropriate public comment period of at least 6 months. The new DEIS should address socioeconomic and cultural impacts on local communities, clearly outlined mitigation of environmental impacts and greenhouse gases, and impacts to self-determination. The process of writing the DEIS should be transparent and include participation of community and environmental watchdog groups.
3) Require the DOD to clean up existing contamination and toxic sites, on and off-base, caused by military operations on Guam, before any base expansion projects are considered;
The San Francisco Earth Day action took place across the street from the EPA’s Earth Day Festival at Yerba Buena Garden. The action was also in solidarity with rallies that will be held in Washington DC and Okinawa, Japan on Sunday, April 25th in protest of a new US base in Okinawa which already holds 30 bases. 100,000 people are expected to rally in Okinawa this Sunday. The Guam build-up plan includes the proposed transfer of 8,000 Marines from Futenma Air Station in Okinawa after decades of local protests.