Three Editorials on the Pentagon vs. Environmental Laws

May 6th, 2003 - by admin

by –

War on Environment – Needless Loopholes for the Pentagon

Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial

(April 3, 2003) — It’s easy to overdo military metaphors these days, but there’s no denying that the Bush administration has been waging war on America’s environmental protections. Now it is using combat in Iraq to both justify and obscure a new assault, which targets the fundamental laws protecting Americans’ air, water and wildlife.

Asserting that these seriously interfere with training and deployment, the White House and Pentagon are asking Congress to grant the military broad exemptions. They’ve had no trouble embedding the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, whose hearings bear the rubric, “Operation End Extremism.”

Extremism? The term might be apt if, say, the Endangered Species Act was preventing the Navy from launching a fleet, or if the Clean Air Act was forcing the Army to park its tanks. But the military can’t seem to find such examples.

Christie Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently testified that she could not cite a single instance where military training was held up by environmental rules. An analysis by the General Accounting Office found readiness unimpaired.

In fact, the Defense Department has earned some praise for environmental stewardship on its 25 million acres of US land, much of it wild. At worst, says a former natural resources specialist for the Air Force and Navy, the regulations can be a hassle: “The military is tired of spending the money,” Bruce Eilerts told the Los Angeles Times. “They want to operate without any checks and balances.”

So do contractors. Thus the administration’s move to give companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics a freer hand to dump explosives and toxic chemicals in soil and groundwater.

In an effort to build the Pentagon’s case, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has asked the armed services to collect examples of environmental laws that might impede their readiness efforts. But his memo underscores the very needlessness of the waiver campaign: The president and defense secretary already have authority to exempt military activities on grounds of national security.

It’s worth noting that many of these laws date from the Nixon administration, when rolling back pollution was a marquee issue for Republicans and husbandry of natural resources was a guiding principle of conservatives.

How appalled they would be to see national security invoked as a sham for giveaways to defense contractors, and for a radical dismantling of government’s ability to conserve our common ground.



Pollution Rules Don’t Hurt Military Readiness

Charlotte Observer editorial

(March 27, 2003) – Issues of military readiness take on extra meaning nowadays. Even so, Congress should be skeptical of a Pentagon request for exemptions from environmental protection laws.

Defense officials say some environmental laws impede training and harm combat readiness. Rules may limit maneuvers in some places during mating seasons, they say, or dictate which beaches can be used for practice landings.

They cite the example of Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they say mock landings are restricted to only 1,500 meters of the camp’s 17-mile-long beach front. They add concern that a pending lawsuit could designate as much as 56 percent of the base as critical wildlife habitat.

Against these and other problems the military last year sought broad exemptions from environmental law. But the proposals came late in the legislative year, and Congress dropped them. The Pentagon has returned to the subject in this year’s defense spending bill, seeking exemptions from laws governing air pollution, toxic waste dumps, endangered species and marine mammals.

Defense officials say they only want more of a common-sense balance between environmental protection and military training needs. But others say they’ve not made a case. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says readiness reports do not support claims that preparedness is being hurt by environmental laws.

Defense officials have not been able to quantify adverse impact systematically, the GAO says, and don’t even have an inventory of all their training ranges.

Neither is it clear why preparedness should permit the Pentagon to skimp on cleanup when its activities foul soil and water. At the Massachusetts Military Reservation, for example, unexploded munitions left on a firing range contaminated drinking water on Cape Cod.

Environmental laws already permit case-by-case exemptions in the interest of national security. Broader exemptions should not be written into law until a good case has been clearly made. So far, it hasn’t.



Military Seeks to Exempt Bases from State Environmental Law

David Whitney / Sacramento Bee

WASHINGTON (Mary 3, 2003) – The fight to exempt the military from various environmental laws moves into the House on Tuesday, and groups ranging from environmentalists to state water districts and the National League of Cities are suiting up for battle with the Pentagon.

The relaxations from environmental regulation sought by the Defense Department extend from air and water pollution laws to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects troubled critters that live in and around the waters and military bases where soldiers and sailors train. They also would include military contractors.

Because of their positions of power in the Republican-controlled House, California Republicans are leading the charge for the Defense Department.

But their legislation comes during a period of heightened anxiety about the environmental consequences of defense operations following reports by the Environmental Working Group that perchlorate, a rocket fuel component, was found in lettuce purchased from grocery stores in Northern California.

Perchlorate is used in rockets and munitions and is believed to have leached into the groundwater used to irrigate the lettuce fields.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, author of key pieces of the legislation, said the relaxed regulation he is seeking should not be cause for alarm.

“Military bases across the United States, including two in my district, have stellar records on protecting the environment and endangered species,” he said when introducing his legislation last week. “Under my bill, that will remain part of their mission.”

Gallegly said his bill “recognizes that the primary mission of military bases is to prepare and protect the United States from our enemies now and in the future.”

“We endanger ourselves if we fail to allow our bases to train our military men and women and test new weapons systems,” he said.

House Democrats are bracing for a probable losing battle over relaxation of the environmental laws. They charged last week that the administration is hoping to capitalize on its high public ratings after the war in Iraq, arguing that the message of the war should be that military preparedness and training is excelling despite Defense Department worries over environmental compliance.

“The Department of Defense has spared no expense to assert that our nation’s environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, are undermining training and readiness of our fighting forces,” Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the House Resources Committee, said Thursday. “Yet, according to the reports released by the General Accounting Office last year and this year, the Pentagon has failed miserably to provide any compelling examples to verify this allegation.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March, heads of the four military branches outlined their case for relaxing environmental regulations.

The Air Force said it is constrained by urban buildup around its bases, and environmental regulation isn’t helping. Several California installations were cited as examples.

“Potential new critical habitat designations could restrict installation or range use and development,” said Gen. Robert H. Foglesong, vice chief of staff for the Air Force. “For example, without clarification, we are facing acreage restrictions on portions of Beale Air Force Base.”

Beale, east of Marysville, is the chosen home base of a new wing of unmanned Global Hawk spy planes. But base advocates are preparing nonetheless for a fight over keeping it open during the 2005 round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Adm. William J. Fallon, vice chief of staff for the Navy, cited a San Francisco lawsuit constraining deployment of a new towed sonar system to a small area of the western Pacific Ocean because it could harm whales and other marine mammals protected by federal laws.

Fallon also complained that environmental restrictions are limiting use of the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton near San Diego for joint Navy and Marine training.

To mitigate potential disruption to birds and their nests on the beach, he said, “only 1,500 meters of the 17 miles of beach is available to practice amphibious landings and movements from the beach using the full range of Marine Corps combat vehicles.” Even within that 1,500-meter beach, there are restrictions, he added.

But relaxing environmental laws is certain to mean more pollution, more poisons seeping into groundwater and more destruction of precious wildlife and wildlife habitat, critics charge.

“Why would they want exemptions if there were not potential problems?” asked Stephen Hall, Sacramento-based executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, worried about military exemptions from the Clean Water Act. “And if there is a problem, why shouldn’t they clean it up?”

Among those raising doubts about the legislation are the National Association of Attorneys General, the Environmental Council of the States and the National League of Cities.

At their press conference Thursday, critics released a poll by Zogby International which found that despite strong public support for the war in Iraq, “more than four out of five likely voters — 84 percent — say that government agencies should have to follow the same environmental and public health laws as everyone else.”

Critics also point out that the Defense Department has a deplorable environmental record. According to an analysis prepared by Democratic staff members of the House Resources Committee in advance of Tuesday’s hearing, 131 Defense Department pollution zones constitute 72 percent of the Superfund National Priority List of the worst contaminated sites in the nation.

The analysis said that under the changes sought by the Defense Department, explosives and unexploded munitions could be removed from regulation under the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and the Clean Air exemptions the military seeks could force “citizens located near military bases to breathe unhealthy air in the name of military readiness.”

“Never has a set of legislative proposals had so much audacity and so little merit,” charged Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.