Environmental advocates are cheering a federal judge’s decision to allow a lawsuit challenging military training plans in the Pacific to move forward.

National nonprofits and organizations in the Northern Marianas are challenging the Navy’s decision to relocate Marines to Guam and establish highly destructive training ranges on the islands of Tinian and Pagan.

The Navy is considering turning the northern half of Pagan into a bombing range and establishing a heavy artillery range on Tinian. The Navy has said ranges would ensure that about 5,000 Marines moving from Okinawa to Guam would have a place to train. It’s also part of an ongoing effort to beef up the military’s presence in the Asia-Pacific.

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This is where the Navy wants to conduct bombing practice on Pagan.

Dan Lin/Civil Beat

Earthjustice, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch and Center for Biological Diversity argued that the Navy should have considered alternatives to Guam before deciding to move 5,000 Marines and their dependents there. The organizations also said that the Navy should have reviewed the impact of the intense training on Pagan and Tinian when it evaluated the impacts of the Guam relocation.

The plan to move Marines to Guam and establish a live-fire range there received final approval in 2015. The Navy is researching the impacts of the proposed Pagan and Tinian ranges separately.

“Our claim is when you make a decision to move Marines to Guam, you have to look at all of the impacts associated with that,” David Henkin, attorney at Earthjustice, said in a phone interview Friday. “And the Navy failed to do that.”

The Navy filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on multiple grounds and U.S. District Court Judge Ramona Manglona ruled both for and against it. Manglona agreed with the Navy that relocating Marines to Guam is a political question and the court can’t require the Navy to consider other alternatives.

“The Court is not authorized to second-guess or initiate such policy decisions, nor capable of doing so,” Manglona wrote.

But she said the court can consider the second question of whether the plans to move Marines to Guam and increase training on Pagan and Tinian should have been reviewed in a single environmental analysis. She said the court has the authority to vacate the decision approving the Guam relocation plan if necessary.

Henkin said such a decision would force the Navy to stop relocating Marines to Guam until a thorough analysis is conducted.

Still, the court is a long way from making any such ruling. The next step is a status conference on Oct. 26. Henkin is hopeful Manglona will give the go-ahead for collecting and reviewing relevant documents and preparing motions for summary judgment.

“We’re really eager to move forward with the case,” he said. “Hopefully the court will agree with us that the analysis wasn’t done that needs to get done. … There are certainly other ways to meet our national security interests other than destroying the lives of people on Tinian and Pagan.”

Attorneys representing the Navy did not immediately reply to an email and voicemail seeking comment.

Click here to read “Pacific Outpost,” Civil Beat’s in-depth report on the military training expansion in the region.

Read Manglona’s ruling below:

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