Army’s open cremation request continues with lawsuit dismissed | Guam News
Prutehi Litekyan’s lawsuit against the Department of Defense and the US Air Force for their use of fires and detonations at Tarague Beach was dismissed by the Guam District Court.
Chief Justice Frances Tydingco-Gatewood granted the Army’s request to dismiss the lawsuit saying the Guam Environmental Protection Agency should decide whether the Air Force can continue to use Tarague Beach for open burning and open detonation of hazardous waste ordnance.
Prutehi Litekyan sued on the grounds that the Air Force failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, a federal law under Tydingco-Gatewood’s jurisdiction.
Military attorney Matthew Rand argued in court Wednesday that the lawsuit, which stemmed from the Air Force’s request to continue using Tarague Beach in 2021, should not be resolved at the federal level.
Rand further explained that Guam EPA has not yet made a decision on its renewal application, which is valid for three years.
“Plaintiff (Prutehi Litekyan) does not follow Congressional process that includes Guam EPA’s experience, knowledge, and expertise,” Rand said. “The plaintiff is trying to cover the waters regarding the action challenged in the complaint.”
In response, Prutehi Litekyan’s attorney, David Henkin, said that in order for the Air Force to resubmit its request for use of Tarague Beach, it had to comply with NEPA. According to the complaint, NEPA is in place to get the agencies to consider the harm their projects are causing to the government and to seek other ways to get rid of their weapons.
In reapplying for the permit, which expired in 2021, Henkin said it triggered legal ramifications the Air Force would have to face — even though the Guam EPA has yet to make a decision on the request for authorization for burning and detonation in the open air. The Air Force also continued operations at the site, although a decision has yet to be made.
“Absent that decision and absent the next steps to implement that decision, who submits the application, they should have ceased open burning (and) detonation in September,” Henkin explained.
Tydingco-Gatewood, however, was concerned that Prutehi Litekyan would explain why NEPA should apply at the Air Force’s request.
She and Henkin back and forth on the issue, which ultimately ended with Tydingco-Gatewood siding with the Air Force and allowing Guam EPA to decide the permit. before the matter can be taken to federal court.
“I believe the ball is in Guam EPA’s court, if you will,” Judge said. “I think it’s up to Guam EPA to make a decision one way or another, and then things can fall apart if they have to fall apart,” hinting at a more appropriate time to ask for a legal action in the district court.
The Guam Daily Post contacted Guam EPA two weeks ago about the status of their permit review. The agency has yet to respond.
Letter to Guam EPA
Earthjustice, which is the company working with Prutehi Litekyan in the lawsuit, wrote a letter to Guam EPA two weeks ago asking them to deny the permit application.
“The US EPA has long recognized the dangers of (open burning and open detonation), banning the practice in 1980 and providing only a narrow exception for ‘(w)waste explosives…which cannot be safely eliminated by other modes of treatment,'” the letter reads.