2000 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Aimee Houghton <aimeeh@cpeo.org>
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2000 15:37:13 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Bi-partisan UXO Letter to Cohen
[The following bi-partisan sign-on letter was delivered to Secretary Cohen this afternoon.  --Aimee]

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515

October 27, 2000

The Honorable William S. Cohen
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC  20301-1155

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to encourage you to prioritize and accelerate initiatives within the Department of Defense to address a very important issue: land contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosives.  We urge you to establish specific line items to develop technologies for UXO identification and remediation.

Currently millions of acres of land and internal waterways within the United States are contaminated with unexploded ordnance and explosives.  Much of the contamination resulted from the conduct of essential military training that served the nation and protected the American people during times of war.  Now, in a time of relative peace, we must protect the American people from the unintended consequences of that training.  Our land, whether developed or protected as parklands and other open space, is one of America's greatest resources.  Safe use of property no longer required by the military for munitions training is essential to our quality of life.

The Department has identified over 9,000 Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) properties across the United States. Over 1,000 of these sites are known or suspected to contain UXO. These FUDS range in size from just a few acres to hundreds of thousands of acres. They are located from extremely remote areas in Alaska to dense urban environments such as the Spring Valley neighborhood in Washington, DC.  Additionally, of the 206 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) sites across the country, many are known to contain UXO.  

In the case of UXO-contaminated FUDS, these sites pose serious risks to present-day citizens who are, for the most part, not even aware that the sites exist, although they live work, study, and recreate on or near them. This was documented at the Massachusetts Military Reservation as recently as last month when close to 1,000 Vietnam-era ordnance, some labeled as carrying a chemical that ignites when it comes in contact with air, were found 2,100 feet from an elementary school.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the presence of UXO at that location has become a threat to drinking water supplies.

Typically, UXO sites such as bombing ranges were once located in underpopulated areas. However, the citizenry now inhabit these formerly remote areas.  Increasing numbers of people seek solace or recreation on former military rangelands that are located, unbeknownst to them, on public lands across the country. In other words, distance is no longer a protective factor. Unlike most other types of contamination, the hazards of ordnance and explosives are easily traced to the nation's armed forces. The responsibility of your Department to address this problem is both clear and pressing.

UXO-contaminated sites located on BRAC bases pose their own set of unique problems as many of those installations, such as the former Fort Ord, are located in already heavily populated urban areas bordered by housing developments, schools, parks, and business and retail parks.  Much of this land is highly desirable, yet it remains unavailable for transfer due to UXO contamination. 

In its April 1998 report, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Unexploded Ordnance Clearance, Active Range UXO Clearance, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Programs found that UXO may be found on 15 million land acres across the United States at closed, transferred, and transferring ranges.  This report estimated that the cost of cleaning up munitions ranges and other UXO sites was $15 billion.  Since that time, additional sites known or suspected of containing UXO continue to be identified.  Unofficial cleanup estimates now exceed $100 billion and the Department has stated that they anticipate the identification of additional sites in coming years.  We are concerned that sufficient high-level attention and resources may not be available to address this most serious threat to public safety.

Mr. Secretary, the time has come to designate specific line items to develop technologies to identify and remediate unexploded ordnance, as recommended by the Defense Science Board.  We urge you to include these in your FY02 budget request.  This will help both your Department and Congress establish a level of effort that will protect the American public and our natural resources in a reasonable time frame.

We encourage you to redress the magnitude of the risk posed by UXO by creating a program similar to the Defense Environmental Restoration Program within the Environmental Security office to identify UXO-related hazards, improve the technology for managing such risks, and make the property safe. Since this is essentially a new requirement, the money for UXO research and response should not be taken from already strapped defense environmental programs.

We further recommend designation of a senior-level official to lead the mission with dedicated resources at his/her disposal.  Many dedicated personnel within the Department of Defense recognize the extent of the problem and are attempting, in partnership with environmental regulators and the public, to devise solutions. They deserve your support and you can assure them of that by building both the budget and the organization necessary to do the job.

With that level of commitment from the Department, we pledge our efforts to garner bipartisan support in Congress. Unexploded ordnance represents a threat to public health and the environment in every region of the country.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Earl Blumenauer, M.C.                           Sam Farr, M.C.
(signed)                                        (signed)
Sue W. Kelly, M.C.                              William D. Delahunt, M.C.
(signed)                                        (signed)
Donald A. Manzullo, M.C.                        Brian Baird, M.C.
(signed)                                        (signed)
Neil Abercrombie, M.C.                          Lane Evans, M.C.
(signed)                                        (signed)

                        Robert A. Underwood, M.C.

cc: The Honorable Jacques Gansler, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology
      The Honorable Sherri W. Goodman, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental
      The Honorable William J. Lynn, Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller)
      Mr. Jack Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget

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