Sonia Lei


Climate change remains an urgent, ongoing global issue that requires critical examination of institutional polluters. This includes the world’s largest institutional consumer of petroleum: the United States military. The Department of Defense (DoD) is a massive institution with little oversight, a carbon footprint spanning the globe, a budget greater than the next ten largest nations combined, and overly generous exemptions to environmental regulations and carbon reduction targets. This Comment examines how this lack of accountability and oversight plays out in the context of three Pacific islands that have hosted U.S. military bases for decades. By considering the environmental impact of military bases on Okinawa, Guam, and Hawai’i, this Comment reveals how the DoD has continually bypassed environmental responsibility through favorable basing agreements with foreign nations that minimize U.S. liability for environmental cleanup, by building bases on unincorporated territories where civilians do not have full constitutional rights, and by obfuscating the true nature of environmental contamination to the public. As a result, environmental laws—and their enforcement by the EPA—are severely undermined. This Comment concludes by offering recommendations to address the root of the U.S. military’s environmental impact in its overseas bases by strengthening the EPA’s authority to enforce environmental laws at military bases, eliminating the military exemptions to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, employing the BRAC process to shrink the DoD’s bloated footprint, and giving full autonomy to Pacific Island nations.

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