Guam: Senators defy governor’s call to vote quickly on water contamination lawsuit bill
By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert | Pacific Daily News | July 1, 2019
Read the full article by Haidee Eugenio Gilbert (Pacific Daily News)
“Most senators on Monday defied Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s call for an immediate vote and request for waiver of the public hearing requirement on a bill that would authorize the hiring of specialized lawyers to help Guam in a potential drinking water contamination lawsuit.
By a vote of 8-to-6, senators agreed to go into a recess of the special session until after a July 9 public hearing on the governor’s bill.
The governor seeks Guam’s inclusion in multi-state lawsuits against manufacturers of chemicals that she said have been known to contaminate drinking water across the nation.
She was referring to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in Guam’s water.
‘I am convinced that our window of opportunity to assert our position in any multi-district litigation is even smaller than I had initially believed,’ the governor said in a letter to senators Monday morning.
Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, who was among those who voted against going into a recess, said GovGuam has less than 25 business days to be a part of the multi-district litigation.
The court has set a deadline of Aug. 4th to add new parties to the existing case, the speaker said in a statement after the vote.
She said these were based on communication from the governor and further clarified by the attorney general.
The speaker said by acting expediently, GovGuam avails itself of the opportunity to seek adequate counsel to represent its people.
‘There have been approximately 100 cases that have been filed regarding PFAS and these cases have been transferred to a multi-district litigation court in the District of South Carolina,’ she said…
The governor called the Legislature into a special session at 2 p.m. Monday, and also asked the speaker to ‘make a determination that emergency conditions exist to justify waiver of the public hearing requirement.’
Eight senators, however, voted in favor of going into a recess of the special session until after Sen. Sabina Perez’s committee on environment, revenue and taxation conducts a public hearing on the governor’s bill.
The hearing on the governor’s Bill 2 (1-S), or the Prutehi I Hanom Act of 2019, is set for 8 a.m. on Tuesday, July 9, at the Guam Congress Building.
Vice Speaker Telena Nelson’s motion to recess until after the public hearing got eight ‘aye’ votes from Sens. Regine Biscoe Lee, Nelson, Perez, Amanda Shelton, Therese Terlaje, Kelly Marsh, Clynt Ridgell and Joe San Agustin.
The six who voted against going into recess were Muña Barnes, Sens. Wil Castro, Jim Moylan, Louise Muña, Telo Taitague and Jose Pedo Terlaje.
Sen. Mary Torres was excused from the session.
The Republican minority said they agree with the governor’s statement that the ‘window of opportunity to assert our position” is small and requires swift decisive action.
‘An indefinite recess from today’s session does nothing to further the discussion on this important matter,’ the Republicans said.
They said had the bill been placed for discussion on the session floor, the Republican senators were to request that the Legislature go into the Committee of the Whole and bring in subject matter experts, as well as representatives from the Office of the Attorney General and Adelup, to name a few.
‘If litigation is the most effective route to holding people accountable for these atrocities and recovering millions of dollars to prevent further harm for future generations or pay for damages done, then I ask my colleagues to move swiftly in support of the bill,’ Castro said…
The speaker, in a statement after the vote, said she stood up for the people of Guam by advocating for the immediate action to rectify health hazards.
‘While I support the governor’s bill and will continue fighting for the welfare of our island and its people, the body has spoken and I will respect the will of the body. We are not in defiance of the governor, but we are keeping our commitment to the People of Guam as their elected leaders,’ Muña Barnes said.
Sen. Shelton stated that the public input is needed in a democracy.
‘Public input is a valuable part of democracy. Clean water is vitally important for all our families but the will of the people is not served by leaving out their voices in the process. It’s not enough to do right, leaders must do it in the right way,’ Shelton said…
If the senators pass the bill and is enacted into law, the attorney general would be authorized to hire specialized legal services, on a contingency fee basis, to join other states in filing lawsuits against the makers of the chemicals.
Under the bill, the contingency fees for monetary relief shall not exceed 30% of the final monetary award obtained and that contingency fees for non-monetary relief shall be calculated at a reasonable rate and reasonable hours, as determined by the trial court.
Immediately upon execution of an agreement for legal services, the attorney general is to submit such agreement to the Legislature, the bill says…
The governor said the federal government knows PFAS has been linked to significant health problems, ranging from elevated cholesterol to reproductive harm, developmental delays and an increased risk of certain cancers.
In recent years, several of Guam’s water wells have had high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate, a type of PFAS, the governor said.
While the Guam Waterworks Authority has continued to address water purity by fitting affected wells with mitigating devices and closing others, the issue of responsibility remains unaddressed and with no action plan, she said.
The speaker said preliminary research by a legislative committee found the following regarding PFAS:
- Three water wells on Guam have tested positive for PFAS.
- At least one has a filter paid for with Department of Interior funds. Filters cost around $500,000 to $1 million.
- Fire suppressing foam was used more commonly by the military and Air Force bases because it was the most effective way to put out jet fuel.
- Tens of thousands of gallons were used monthly for training purposes.
- The three wells tested above the 70 parts per trillion acceptable by the EPA at about 200-250 parts per trillion.
- Known to cause around seven types of cancers, mainly related to the urinary tract.
- Can also be found in landfills.
- Testing of wells once a year is very important to detect contamination…
Besides the governor’s bill, two other bills have been recently introduced to address PFAS contamination.
Sen. Therese Terlaje on June 13 introduced Bill 163, which seeks to authorize the Office of the Attorney General to enter into contingency fee agreements to protect Guam’s water caused by the use of PFOA, PFOS, polychlorinated biphenyls, Agent Orange, radiation or other contaminants for Superfund litigation on Guam’s behalf.
Perez, along with Therese Terlaje and Nelson, also introduced on Friday Bill 174, which seeks to regulate PFAS in drinking water.
The bill sets a maximum contaminant level for six PFAS commonly found in drinking water…”
This content provided by the PFAS Project.