2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 13 Jan 2003 16:24:43 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Rules on Environment Concern Pentagon, WashingtonPost

Monday, January 13, 2003

- Rules on Environment Concern Pentagon
 By Vernon Loeb
 The Pentagon plans to ask Congress next month for  relief from
environmental regulations that protect endangered species and critical
habitats on millions of acres of military training ranges across the
country, saying  those controls impede crucial exercises and combat
 Defense officials said last week in interviews that their plan is
designed to strike a "common sense" balance between environmental
stewardship and  wartime readiness. For example, environmental
regulations  prohibit military maneuvers on some ranges during certain
mating seasons and dictate which California beaches the Marines can
storm in practice, they said.
 "While we are arguably one of the best environmental stewards in the
government today . . . there is a first and foremost obligation that the
secretary of defense has, and that is to properly prepare our troops for
combat," said Raymond F. DuBois Jr., deputy undersecretary of defense
for installations and environment.
 "Protecting natural resources is not incompatible with protecting
access to the land, air and sea space necessary for that realistic
combat training," he said. "The military readiness issue here sometimes
gets lost."
 But what DuBois and other Pentagon officials consider "common sense"
solutions strike environmental groups as an  assault on six major
environmental laws, from the Endangered Species Act to the Clean Air
 "The essence of what they're saying is, national defense requires
destroying what it is they're trying to defend," said Jeff Ruch,
executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility,
a Washington-based environmental group. "And for the military on
environmental issues to say 'trust us,' given their horrendous record,
is insane."
 Both sides describe the stakes in a looming battle on Capitol Hill as 
high. Vast expanses of military land, required for highly mobile combat
training and bombing practice,  contain some of the most pristine
natural habitats in the United States, home to more than 300 federally
protected plant and animal species.
 The Pentagon failed  to win approval of a similar legislative package
last year,  partly because it presented the controversial amendments at
the last minute in an otherwise sympathetic House, and partly because
more-hostile Democrats controlled the Senate.
 Acknowledging past errors,  defense officials headed by Paul W.
Mayberry, deputy undersecretary of defense for readiness, have  devised
a detailed strategy. It involves presenting the proposals early in the
new legislative session,  then working hard to win over critics on
Capitol Hill and at the state level, where opposition runs high.
 An internal strategy document, leaked to Ruch's organization, says the
Pentagon needs "to get off the defensive" and "work to improve and
extend outreach to a wide range of targeted stakeholders over the course
of the coming year to build a foundation for future range sustainment
 Beyond amending the environmental statutes by adding language to the
2004 defense authorization act, Mayberry's group also favors enactment
of a regulatory process under which federal agencies would have to file
"defense impact statements" -- similar to existing environmental impact
statements -- before taking actions, such as designating parklands, that
could hamper the military's ability to conduct training exercises.
  But success may depend upon how well officials  answer concerns raised
last year by the General Accounting Office. It  concluded that while
environmental regulations and rapid commercial development are indeed
encroaching on military ranges, the Pentagon could not quantify any
adverse impact.
  "Over time, the impact of encroachment on training ranges has
gradually increased," the GAO reported. "However . . . the overall
impact on readiness is not well documented."
 In the absence of such data -- the Pentagon does not even have an
inventory of all its training ranges -- the debate between defense
officials and environmentalists  revolves around a series of highly
publicized examples. Camp Pendleton, Calif., home to the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force, is high on the list.
 Defense officials said environmental regulations that protect 18
endangered species prohibit the Marines from conducting mock amphibious
assaults on all but 1,500 meters of the camp's 17-mile beachfront
between Orange and San Diego counties. They say Camp Pendleton offers a
classic illustration of how intense development and population pressure 
have forced wildlife onto military preserves across the country, turning
combat training grounds into teeming wildlife areas.
 A pending lawsuit, the officials said, could lead to the designation of
56 percent of the base, and 65 percent of the Miramar Marine Corps Air
Station in San Diego, as critical habitat, further restricting training
activities. One of the legislative changes the Pentagon is seeking would
enable military ranges to avoid designation as critical habitats under
the Endangered Species Act as long as they follow  acceptable natural
resource management plans required under another federal law.
  Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense
Council in Los Angeles, which filed the suit, said that Pendleton and
Miramar are critical habitats for the endangered coastal California
gnatcatcher, a small songbird  threatened by development from the
Mexican border to Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles.
 Allowing military installations to supersede the Endangered Species Act
with their own natural resource management plans, which are far less
stringent, would imperil the gnatcatcher and numerous other endangered
species, Reynolds said. 
 The Natural Resources Defense Council  filed another highly publicized
lawsuit, in which a federal judge last fall enjoined the Navy from
deploying a  low-frequency active (LFA) sonar system pending trial on
the grounds that it could violate numerous environmental laws, including
the Marine Mammal Protection Act. High-intensity sonar on submarines,
including the new LFA system, is suspected as the cause of numerous
whale beachings in recent years.
  In response to this lawsuit, defense officials want to change the
Marine Mammal Protection Act's definition of prohibited "harassment."
Currently, any military action that constitutes an "annoyance" to marine
mammals and has the "potential to disturb" the animals is prohibited.
The Pentagon wants the definition of harassment changed to anything that
could have "biologically significant effects" on the animals.
 The legal challenges, the officials said, have kept the Navy from using
the sonar to track new quiet submarines used by China, North Korea and
Iran for the past six years.
  Reynolds, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, responded that the
definitional change sought by the Pentagon would "substantially reduce
the level of protection to marine mammals under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act." But it would not end the litigation, he said, noting
that the lawsuit alleges violations under four separate environmental
  Two other legislative changes the Pentagon is seeking would state that
two major hazardous waste laws do not apply to "munitions deposited and
remaining on operational ranges" during live-fire training.
 Pentagon officials, according to the GAO, are concerned that these laws
could be used to shut down live-fire exercises. The Environmental
Protection Agency terminated live-fire training at the Massachusetts
Military Reservation in 1997 after determining that unexploded ordnance
and munitions on the range had contaminated drinking water on Cape Cod,
the GAO noted.
 With the Pentagon and environmental groups preparing for battle, the
fight over environmental laws on combat training ranges -- which cover
nearly 30 million acres, about 1 percent of the lower 48 states -- is
expected to be a top environmental issue in the new GOP-controlled
 The precedent-setting nature of this and other changes sought by the
Pentagon, Ruch said, "will punch big holes into all of the major
environmental statutes around which environmental groups have been
working for the last 30 years. If the Defense Department gets an
exemption, why not Homeland Security?"
 DuBois, the Pentagon's chief environmental official, responded that the
changes do not constitute "an attack on environmental legislation writ
large. . . . It is true that we have asked for relief, in a narrowly
confined and defined way -- military readiness training activities
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