Lolo praises local efforts to gain funds from Starkist settlement
UTULEI, American Samoa — As the public comment period opens for the proposed consent decree between the United States, the Territory of American Samoa, and Starkist Co., Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga praises local efforts to garner $2.6 million dollars of Starkist’s total $6.5 million dollar civil penalty for American Samoa.
On December 22, 2017, in federal court, the United States and the Territory of American Samoa lodged an amended complaint that includes claims against Starkist for violations of the American Samoa Environmental Quality Act and its implementing regulations. These claims are based on the same facts underlying the United States’ claims for relief.
Along with the amended complaint, a second proposed consent decree signed by the United States, the Territory, and Starkist was also lodged, resolving the alleged violations in the amended complaint. This second decree differs greatly from the first decree filed by the United States on September 12, 2017, before American Samoa became a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit. Most notably, the penalty allocation to the Territory has increased from an $88,000 dollar supplemental environmental project – to include a $2.6 million dollar civil penalty.
Gov. Lolo explained, “When the United States filed its first proposed consent decree against Starkist, American Samoa was not a party to the agreement. Only an $88,000 project was earmarked for the Territory, with the $6.3 million dollar civil penalty allocated entirely to the United States. I felt this was unjust, as the alleged environmental violations occurred here in American Samoa. I voiced my objection through the public comment process, and instructed our Attorney General to pursue every avenue available to ensure the Territory is properly represented and compensated in this action. I also wrote Congresswoman Aumua Amata to apprise her of the situation and to ask for her help in the matter”
Before the court approves this settlement, the public has 30 days to comment.
After the United States lodged its first complaint and proposed consent decree on September 12, 2017, Governor Lolo, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, and Paramount Chief Mauga Tasi Asuega each responded with public comments expressing their dissatisfaction with the proposed consent decree and the lack of involvement from the Territory. Shortly after these comments were submitted, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) contacted the American Samoa Government (ASG) to discuss a way forward in this case. The resulting outcome of these efforts is the amended complaint and proposed consent decree filed with the court on December 22, 2017.
Commenting on the settlement process, Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale said, “I couldn’t be prouder of our local team of ASG attorneys: Deputy Attorney General Lornalei Meredith, American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency (AS-EPA) Legal Counsel Marian McGuire, Legal Counsel to the Governor Alema Leota, and former Assistant Attorney General and current LBJ Hospital Counsel Aitofele “Mino” Sunia. They worked tirelessly through nights and holidays to drive this home. This result along with those in our LVPA matter, showcase the talent and work ethic of our local ASG attorneys. I also wish to acknowledge the efforts and professionalism displayed by the attorneys at the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and counsel for Starkist — their support allowed this process to be completed in record time.”
“Governor Lolo Moliga greatly facilitated American Samoa’s inclusion in this amended settlement,” said AS-EPA Director Ameko Pato. “Deputy Director Fa'amao Asalele and Legal Counsel Marian McGuire worked hard for this outcome. AS-EPA is strongly committed to working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), and Starkist, to ensure that Pago Pago Harbor is protected against future pollution.”
Under the new proposed consent decree, Starkist will pay a civil penalty of $6.5 million dollars – this includes an additional $200,000 for alleged stormwater violations found before the original consent decree was finalized by the court. Of this civil penalty, Starkist will pay $2.6 million to the Territory and $3.9 million to the United States. Starkist will also perform major facility upgrades and other environmental compliance measures. The U.S. EPA will partner with AS-EPA to oversee Starkist’s compliance efforts.
Regarding the new proposed consent decree, Lolo stated, “The revised consent decree exemplifies what can happen when there is open communication and honest cooperation between federal and local governments on regulatory enforcement matters. Too many times, federal enforcement efforts ignore local governments and the impact of their decisions on the local communities who end up bearing the brunt of the enforcement action. Here, although it started out as a federal enforcement effort only, American Samoa has been added to the action and the revised agreement reflects a true joint enforcement effort between the American Samoa Government and federal agencies involved.”
He continued, “I would also like to thank Congresswoman Aumua Amata for her outspoken support and efforts as her public comment and speech on the floor of Congress proved instrumental.”
The public comment period for the new proposed consent decree started on January 2, 2018 and ends February 1, 2018.
A copy of the proposed consent decree is available on the DOJ web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. A summary of the settlement, translated into the Samoan language, is also available on the DOJ web site.