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Gov. Lolo appreciates that feds included Am Samoa in Starkist suit

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga [SN file photo]
“Too many times, federal enforcement efforts ignore local governments”

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has expressed appreciation to the US Justice Department for inclusion of American Samoa into the amended lawsuit and proposed revised consent decree against StarKist Co., and StarKist Samoa for violating environmental laws in territorial ways.

“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,” Lolo wrote in his Jan. 25 comment letter to the USDOJ, which included the governor’s letter in its filings on Feb. 12 supporting the federal court’s approval of the ‘consent decree’ reached between the feds, ASG and defendants - StarKist Co. and StarKist Samoa.

“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,” Lolo points out.

The governor noted that although the case before the federal court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania started out as a federal government enforcement only, American Samoa was added to the case and the “revised agreement reflects a true joint enforcement effort.”

The initial lawsuit and consent decree filed last September with the court prompted Lolo’s opposition saying in his Oct. 17, 2017 letter that the decree was “both improper and inadequate” as American Samoa would get nothing out of the $6.3 million in civil penalties imposed on the defendants.

Under the initial decree, which was also opposed by Congresswoman Aumua Amata, American Samoa would receive only $88,000 in emergency equipment to local first responders to chemical releases.

However, the proposed revised degree, which gives American Samoa $2.6 million in civil penalty and the rest to the federal government, is endorsed by Aumua and Lolo. Both have requested the court’s approval. Money for emergency equipment also remains in tact in the revised decree.

In his Jan. 25 letter, the governor praised the hard work of ASG attorneys, who were given short notice and worked extremely hard to get up to speed with the case working closely with federal attorneys to expedite this matter.  The governor also acknowledged the “work and professionalism” displayed by attorneys at USDOJ and US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

“It was made known to me that USDOJ and USEPA listened intently to our input and responded accordingly,” Lolo explained. “This reflected in the release of a Samoan translation of the case summary, the new allocation of penalty fines and our inclusion in the follow-up compliance monitoring.”

“It is my hope that this case will serve as an example of cooperating in future enforcement matters,” said Lolo, noting that funds from the settlement “will be used to protect our natural treasurers and to help deter future pollution.”

In conclusion, Lolo says American Samoa looks forward to “continuing this great working relationship with USDOJ and USEPA on this matter and on any future matters.”

Lolo has long complained about decisions made at the federal level impacting American Samoa without local input from territorial leaders and the community.

USDOJ has asked the federal court to approve the consent decree, which is supported by the federal government, American Samoa and StarKist. It’s unclear as to when the court will make a final decision.