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Am Samoa now waiting for share of multi-million-dollar decision

Starkist president and chief executive officer, Andrew Choe [SN file photo]
Consent decree in US-ASG case with StarKist approved

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The federal court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has approved the consent decree, which was also entered as final judgment that resolves a complaint by the governments of the United States and American Samoa against US based StarKist Company and its StarKist Samoa cannery in Pago Pago.

The decree was approved and signed Tuesday by US District Court Judge, David Stewart Cercone. The plaintiffs’ complaint accused the cannery of violating federal and local environmental laws in territorial waters, pertaining to the StarKist Samoa plant in the territory.

Last month the US Justice Department requested Cercone to approve the consent decree, which went through a 30-day public comment period, after it was publicly released in January. According to the USDOJ, both American Samoa and the defendants — StarKist Co., and StarKist Samoa Inc. — are not opposed to the consent decree.

According to the 45-page final consent decree judgment, the “defendants do not admit any liability” to the United States or the territorial government “arising out of the transactions or occurrences” relating to violations cited in the complaint.

The defendants are required under the decree to take several corrective action measures to ensure full compliance with federal and local environmental laws. The corrective actions are also to ensure that repeated violations don't occur in the future at the Atu’u plant.

While the court has approved the decree and entered it as final judgment, it doesn’t mean American Samoa is getting a portion of the civil penalty money right away.

Answers to this issue are what some lawmakers will be seeking from the administration, when the Fono reconvenes next Monday following a mid-session recess.

Early last month, some lawmakers questioned ASG’s share of the civil penalty, but ASG officials testified in committee hearings that the government has not received it yet.

Under the decree, the defendants will pay $6.5 million in a civil penalty, with $2.6 million coming to American Samoa while $3.9 million goes to the federal government. In addition, defendants will provide $88,000 in emergency equipment to local first responders for chemical releases.

It also says that 30-days after the effective date (which is Mar. 7th) of the decree, the defendants are to pay $3.9 million to the United States and $2.6 million to American Samoa, together with interest accruing from the date on which the Consent Decree is lodged with the Court (which was early January), at the rate specified in federal law.

Furthermore, the defendant pays the amount due to American Samoa by submitting payment to the ASG “Stationary Air Pollution Source Fund”, in accordance with instructions provided by the territorial government. This same Fund account is to be used by the defendants to submit all payments due to the Territory under this Consent Decree.

At the time of payment, defendants shall send notice that payment has been made to the Territory. Such notice shall state that the payment is for the civil penalty owed to the Territory from this federal case.

American Samoa joined the federal complaint last December, after the governor complained during the public comment period to the feds, as well as the urging by Congresswoman Aumua Amata. The initial complaint by the feds was filed last September, along with the first decree — which was amended last December, when American Samoa was included.

Last September, StarKist president and chief executive officer, Andrew Choe said the company “is committed to American Samoa and its people by being a socially responsible company and doing the right thing.”