Sunday, March 14, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #14: F

President Barack Obama is not a liar, and when he isn't as progressive or radical as people would like him to be, its not because he is not living up to his rhetoric, one thing that has always been comforting about Obama and his rhetoric is that he has, since starting to run for office in 2007, always said exactly what he intends to do.

Thinking that because Obama's skin color is a certain way, he would therefore be interested in keeping the war machines of the first world from waging war against any more black and brown peoples, is ridiculous. What Obama represents to you or to me, has very little to do with what consciousness he carries and uses to think about the world. Obama was against the Iraq War not on principle, but because it was a stupid war, a tactical/strategic mistake, that distracted the United States and its military from the real threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And although Obama was very generous and vague in his rhetoric on ending the war in Iraq, he was almost maddeningly crystal clear on the fact that he intended to escalate and start a new war in Afghanistan.

This apparent flaw in or failure of the promise of Obama shouldn't be the point from which we start to analyze whether or not his message of change was really nothing but fancy speeches. This does not mean that the idea of Obama's election representing change or that things have changed since he came to power are false. Sure, the hype and the hope wasn't as concrete as many wished, and the chorus of angels that Hillary Clinton promised us didn't appear, but some more subtle changes have taken place. Most of them are not the dramatic inspiring things which get lazy voters so incredibly inspired to leave their homes and vote every two to four years, but they are still very important things to consider.

Last week I got a chance to meet Blaine Harden, a reporter from The Washington Post, who was on island to write a story about Guam. Me and some members of We are Guahan took him on a hike to Pagat cave and cliffs and spoke to him about the past few months and all the craziness of the DEIS public comment period and how so many things which seem so very certain last year (military buildup), now seem so up in the air, or as I write about on this blog, appearing to breakdown or fall apart. I spoke to Blaine about this and some of the ideas that I had about why this was taking place, and he reminded me of something very fundamental which had changed last year, and was no doubt playing a key role in how this military buildup is being handled.

Since Obama was sworn in last year, and Bush and his cabal are gone (well maybe not Dick Cheney), a very significant shift in government has taken place, because now numerous parts of the massive octopus that is the Federal Government, which are now simply allowed to do their jobs. Now this isn't the type of things which you might associate with being "revolutionary" or worth the incredible hype of Obama's "change train," but it can actually have very serious ripple effects on policy, something which Guam experienced a few weeks ago with regards to the military buildup. According to Harden, so many Federal regulatory agencies found themselves muzzled and ideologically oppressed during the Bush years. People who had wanted jobs maintaining and protecting things such as the rule of law, the economy or the environment found their hands ideologically tied by the Bush philosophy of government. Harden mentioned that he had interviewed several years ago several people who were responsible in the Western United States for regulating wildlife and natural resources, who found that once Bush had come to power, that they were actively prevented from doing their jobs. Many of these agencies were those which should probably run the same regardless of who is in charge in Washington D.C., but under Bush, there was a particular ideological disdain for these things and so many of the agencies were intentionally made ineffective or kept from regulating.

Under President Obama that has changed slightly. Although Fox News might disagree with me, President Obama is far less ideological in his approach than they are. When I say this I am using it not in the theoretical academic sense, but more in the layman, everyday use. Obama, like everyone has a number of different ideological investments, but his approach to running the government of the United States is far less partisan or counterproductive, meaning that he doesn’t have a list of significant Federal entities which he is after or wanting to put on the chopping block, but is unable to do so, so instead just puts useless cronies in there and let them play like everything is the land of do as you please. What Harden basically said is that under Obama, agencies like Fish and Wildlife or the EPA, just get to do their jobs. There is no pressure to be pro-business or be a regulatory agency who regulates in a free-market-Sarah Palin-shooting deer from a helicopter way.

All of this is very important for Guam because a few weeks ago the national EPA released their report on the DOD’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and their report confirmed so many of the critiques that people have been making for months now. I can’t think of the right verb to fit this occasion, I want to say that the EPA slammed the DEIS, but that isn’t strong enough. I want to say that the EPA ripped the arms of the DEIS and then savagely beat them with them, but that’s too gruesome. There’s plenty of other language out there that I could use to signify the brutality of the critiques but a lot of them involved sexist imagery and so I won’t use them here. Needless to say, the EPA gave the DEIS the lowest grade it could give for a document of that type, basically an F.

I should note first, that the EPA report is not against the buildup, it doesn’t take a principled stance that the buildup is wrong or can’t be done. So, my comments shouldn’t be interpreted as me being excited because I feel like the people at the EPA have the same consciousness as me or that they are supporting Guam’s decolonization. But its critiques which involve a six page letter and a 95 page report, all point to some very fundamental flaws and gaps in the DEIS. Some of which the EPA admits can be overcome with more research or better mitigation, but some of which the DOD is nowhere near close to justifying (most prominently the dredging of Apra Harbor).

Harden noted in our conversation that under Bush, even if the same exact DEIS had been submitted, it wouldn’t have gotten such a low grade from the EPA, and so many of the potential criticisms would have been muffled or edited out. The EPA might have just rubber stamped the document in order to keep the DOD buildup train running smoothly.

Now, it is not that under Obama, the DOD is treated like crap and give a hard time by the socialist pinko commie liberals. Obama himself has signaled from as early as 2007 that he was in favor of the buildup and nothing since then has given us any indication that he has changed in his opinion. Furthermore, although some of the architects of Bush defense policy are gone, many of them remain, and the need to militarize Guam is something that both Rumsfeld and Gates agree on.

So, the harsh criticism from EPA does not reflect any sort of explicit ideological shift, but most likely is part of a loosening of the ideological restraints on the agency from 2001-2010. It’s not that a directive came down from David Axelrod telling them that under Obama everyone gets an F’ for their DEIS, especially the military! But, rather, there was probably very little interference of ideological suggestion from above, and so regulators came to their own decisions.

Although the EPA report has very little direct impact on the process, it represents a very serious stumbling block for the DOD. It is the first national critique to join the thousands of critiques that came locally over the past four months. When Senator James Webb came through a few weeks ago, it was a similar potential national point of rupture. They are things which the DOD can ignore and simply move forward, but the path ahead becomes more and more delicate, the more points emerge and the more they refuse to slow down or acknowledge them.

To read the Analysis and Full Report click here

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EPA analysis finds military’s plan for Guam growth is ‘inadequate’
By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, February 27, 2010
TOKYO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the Pentagon’s massive buildup plans for Guam “should not proceed as proposed” and has offered its harshest internal rating, a move that could force the military to rewrite its plans for the island.

The sharp criticism came in a six-page letter and 95-page analysis from the EPA on the military’s environmental impact statement, which outlines expansion plans and includes the controversial move of 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The EPA documents, dated Feb. 17, say the permanent military expansion and temporary addition of nearly 80,000 people during construction would “exacerbate existing substandard environmental conditions on Guam,” including public health, the island’s sole aquifer, sewage systems, air quality, trash collection, coral reefs and other marine life.

“The impacts are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed and improved analyses are necessary to ensure the information in the EIS is adequate to fully inform decision-makers,” Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s administrator for Region 9 in San Francisco, wrote in a letter to Robert Natsuhara, the Navy’s acting assistant secretary for installations and environment.

By officially calling the military’s plans “inadequate,” the EPA could force the military to revise its entire environmental assessment of Guam, according to documents, which are available at http://www.epa.gov/region09/nepa/letters/Guam-CNMI-Military-Reloc-DEIS.pdf.

A ruling of inadequate, according to EPA policy, means the military must rewrite its impact statement, submit a new draft and hold an additional public comment period on expansion. The plans include the proposed Marines’ move, hosting an aircraft carrier berth for two months of every year, and adding an Army air defense unit with anti-ballistic missiles.

It was an unusually harsh ruling from the EPA, according to Mike Gawel, who retired from the Guam Environmental Protection Agency four months ago. As an environmental engineer planner, he was involved with impact statements for more than 30 years.

The EPA comments on all impact statements, which are required of federal projects that might pose harm to the environment. But the military’s statement, with its combination of a rapid construction schedule on a 212-square-mile island with aging infrastructure, tackled too much at once, Gawel said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

“This is just unheard of,” he said of the thousands of pages submitted last November by the military. “I am very concerned about this.”

The military, too, acknowledges that the scope of the project is extraordinary, calling it one of the most complex impact statements the Department of Defense has ever prepared, according to Marine Corps Maj. Neil Ruggiero, a spokesman for the Joint Guam Program Office.

“Although we have worked closely with EPA and other federal and local agencies during the development of the draft EIS, we fully anticipated that formal agency comments would point out deficiencies and areas requiring revision,” Ruggiero said in a prepared statement.

“The Department of Defense is seriously evaluating all comments received on the draft EIS and is determining how best to address these issues in the final EIS,” he wrote.

That final document is expected this summer.

In its analysis, the EPA did not condemn the idea of a larger military presence on Guam, nor did it issue an opinion on whether Guam could support the influx of troops, equipment, traffic and flushing toilets. Rather, the analysis questioned whether the military had thoroughly studied the potential effects of its plans and offered adequate and long-lasting solutions for the island.

The EPA did sweep aside some of the military’s mitigation proposals, including the offer to build an artificial reef to replace coral in Apra Harbor and the plan to rely on construction companies to supply imported workers with medical, housing, electrical, water and sewage needs.

The EPA’s comments join an escalating chorus of concerns from local, congressional and Japanese officials about the buildup.

In recent months, U.S. and Japan leaders have hit a stalemate over relocating the 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. In recent weeks, the island’s legislators and governor — many of whom initially embraced the military’s plans — have offered stronger words for military and other federal leaders about the feasibility of housing those Marines and their families by 2014.

Earlier this month, the island’s lone delegate to Congress, Madeleine Bordallo, said she would not support funding for that construction schedule.

On Thursday, some of those same leaders praised the EPA’s comments.

“The Department of Defense must address the overall infrastructure requirements on Guam and how to fund those requirements including waste water and clean water concerns associated with the induced population growth,” Bordallo said in a written statement. “The EPA raised serious concerns with the DoD’s assessment method of coral reef impact and stated that the DoD underestimates coral reef impact on Guam.”

“This document further solidifies our position that these concerns must be addressed to ensure the buildup is beneficial for Guahan,” said acting Gov. Michael Cruz in a statement, using the native Chamorro word for Guam.

More vocal critics found relief — and vindication — in the EPA’s comments.

“I thought it was great,” said Guam Sen. B.J. Cruz, the legislature’s vice speaker, who has been a vocal opponent of the buildup. “It contains everything I was complaining about. I’m hoping the EPA holds their feet to the fire and insists on a redraft.”

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Military, EPA working together to address Guam environmental concerns
By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Online Edition, Thursday, March 4, 2010

TOKYO — The U.S. military is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to address concerns raised when the agency sharply criticized plans for a military buildup on Guam.

The pressure is on to figure out how to meet environmental laws, community expectations and a 2014 deadline to move in 8,600 Marines from Okinawa. An EPA analysis gave the military proposal its most severe rating, and both groups are trying to move forward without significant delays to the massive project.

The military is working under a self-imposed deadline to finalize its federally required plans — drawn up as an environmental impact statement — by the end of summer in order to begin construction this fall. They say that schedule is necessary to meet an existing agreement with Japan for the Marines’ move.

Meeting the summer deadline will require substantially rewriting and reanalyzing major parts of the military’s plans, including how it will house tens of thousands of temporary workers during construction and how it can avoid dredging as much as 25 acres of coral in Apra Harbor to make way for visiting carriers.

“We’re in agreement with most of the issues that have been brought out,” said David Bice, the retired Marine Corps major general tasked with spearheading the buildup. “How do we deal with it? That’s the crux of the matter.”

For now, the EPA has not asked the military to formally rewrite its proposal, a plan that also includes building an aircraft carrier berth and moving an Army air defense unit to Guam. The EPA could ask for that at a later date.

Instead, the military and the EPA are working together to address current and predicted environmental concerns on Guam that, when combined with the military’s plans, could further tax the island’s struggling water and sewage systems.

“We understand and support DOD’s military mission,” said Nova Blazej, an EPA special assistant who has been on the Guam military project for three years. “We’ve been engaged with the military on this — we want to help ensure that this project meets all national environmental laws and meets the DOD’s deadline.”

Despite three years of collaborative work on the project, Blazej said she understood why the military received such a poor rating from EPA.

The island itself is an environmental challenge. All of Guam’s sewage plants are in noncompliance with the Clean Water Act, according to the EPA. Making the island fully compliant with all environmental standards — without the buildup — would take $800 million to $1 billion, Bice said.

Still, the harsh rating was rare. The EPA reviews about 250 environmental impact statements from other federal agencies each year. On average, only three projects each year rate “inadequate,” she said.

That inadequacy, according to the EPA’s analysis, includes military plans that would “exacerbate existing substandard environmental conditions on Guam,” including public health, the island’s sole aquifer, sewage systems, air quality, trash collection, coral reefs and other marine life.

Solving many of those problems, both Bice and EPA officials say, involves getting more money from other federal agencies.

“How to pay for it is the next big challenge,” Blazej said.

Bice said Thursday he is seeing more movement on that front. Last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn met with his counterparts from various federal agencies to talk about finding money for Guam, Bice said.

“This is a federal move,” Bice said. “It’s not just a Marines’ move. I’m talking about all federal agencies. They all have a stake in Guam. It cannot be done without their support.”

The EPA, despite its recent analysis, says it is trying to do its part. In years past, the agency has given the island about $1 million for water and wastewater improvements; this year, Guam got $13 million, Blazej said.

The EPA acknowledges that money doesn’t come close to refurbishing Guam’s water and sewage systems. And, in the end, it could be the EPA’s “inadequate” rating that has long-lasting effects for Guam and the buildup.

If this summer’s report from the military remains unsatisfactory in the EPA’s eyes, the project could get referred for mediation by the Council on Environmental Quality, a board that oversees the environmental impact statement process.

That move, however, is even rarer. From 1970 to 2000, only 26 projects were referred for mediation, according to the EPA. More recent numbers were unavailable.

The mediation would involve the council acting on behalf of the president to resolve the environmental issues and challenges between the EPA and the federal agency pursuing the project. The council’s purpose is not to stop any project from coming to fruition, and the agency has no record of that ever happening, Blazej wrote this week in an e-mail in response to a question. If the two sides cannot work out their differences, the president could resolve the matter. That has never happened, she said.

For now, meetings were to start this week between the EPA and the military to continue working on the Guam buildup.

Bice said that work, along with much of the criticism and comments during the past few months, will be addressed in this summer’s report. He also said the current deadline — moving the Marines to Guam by 2014 — remains.

“Many have said it’s unrealistic,” he said of the timeline. “I acknowledge that 2014 remains the target.”

Officials from the EPA were less certain the hard work will meet the military’s summer deadline for a final set of plans.

“I don’t think we can make a conclusion on that,” said Lynn Kuo, another EPA special assistant who has been working solely on the Guam military buildup project since last year. “If all the stars align, it could work out. But the stars have to align.”

1 comment:

Koohan Paik said...

super interesting post. thank you!

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