“AM SAMOA DEALT INEQUITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE BY NOAA”
Commentary to NOAA for “posted comments” submitted to NOAA on June 1, 2023
I am writing in support of the Governor of American Samoa's letter (supported by the American Samoa Congresswoman) to the US President to NOT move forward with the proposed expansion of the PRIA marine monument until an independent comprehensive assessment of the proposed expansion can ascertain that the American Samoa economy will not be adversely impacted by said proposed expansion.
The proposed expansion and results of such an independent comprehensive assessment must be explained to the residents including traditional chiefs and all key stakeholders in our territory of American Samoa in a series of meaningful meetings across the islands.
The time frame and manner in which NOAA carried out its tasks informing and soliciting input from the people of American Samoa was culturally inappropriate and condescending. NOAA prides itself as adherent to such ideals as equity and environmental justice (EEJ) — which is defined as fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
Given that the local media was informed by the NOAA office in American Samoa on May 15 about the scoping meeting to be held on May 24 and the deadline for comments on June 2, American Samoa was met with IEIJ — inequity, and environmental injustice.
The American Samoa economy is fishery-based (private sector) and government dependent, basically.
The Deed of Cession between the US and the Chiefs of American Samoa guarantees the protection of the welfare of the people of American Samoa and its livelihood, the economy. Any proposed action that could impact the livelihood of American Samoans must be vetted fully where American Samoans are active participants in these discussions and decision-making processes. Anything short of that would be 'inequity and environmental injustice'.
Hence, I respectfully ask NOAA and the US President to do the right thing by American Samoans and their brothers and sisters in Guam and CNMI — conduct an appropriate independent comprehensive assessment of the PRIA marine sanctuary expansion — how it impacts our economies and engage our respective peoples meaningfully and with the respect that they deserve. Ma le fa'aaloalo fa'afetai (with respect thank you).
The courage, passion, determination, and decisiveness with which the Lolo-Lemanu administration dealt with the Bank of Hawaii’s (BOH) departure from American Samoa announced in 2013 must be summoned up once more by the Lemanu-Talauega administration to deal with the proposed marine sanctuary expansion.
It must be mentioned that with the BOH issue, the Lolo-Lemanu administration was the recipient of the undivided support of the Fono, Congressman Faleomavaega, friends of American Samoa in Congress, sons/ daughters of American Samoa in the USDOI, our allies in the states of Utah and Hawaii, and the Samoan diaspora in the US. It will take support of such magnitude to help American Samoa deal with NOAA on this important issue.
When I submitted my comments on June 1, the day before the deadline for comments, there were 115 posted comments on the NOAA website regarding the proposed marine monument expansion. As of yesterday, there were 2,220 posted comments — most of which were the same prepared message by the League of Conservation Voters posted by its members supporting the proposed monument expansion. This appears to me as a “duplicate/near duplicate example of a mass mail campaign” — something that NOAA stated in its FAQ as a reason for NOT posting received comments.
Hence, it behooves that our leaders — Governor, Fono, Congresswoman, and traditional chiefs of Tutuila/Aunu’u, Manu’atele, and Olohenga — stand together and lead the fight for the protection of our rights to participate fairly and effectively in the decision-making processes that impact our livelihood today, tomorrow, and beyond.
“You lead, and your people will follow. Together, we shall overcome”!
Fuiavailili Keniseli Lafaele