2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 11 Mar 2003 17:43:55 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Bomb nature, improve security
Bomb nature, improve security
Environmental controls on 30 million acres managed by the Pentagon would

all but vanish under a new military-readiness plan.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Glenn Scherer

March 11, 2003  |  Citing the imminent war with Iraq and the ongoing war
on terrorism, the Bush administration is moving quietly to give the
Pentagon broad exemptions to environmental laws that would, in the name
of national security, allow the military to more freely pollute the air,
contaminate land and water with toxic munitions, and threaten endangered
species like whales and birds.

The measure would give the military near-absolute environmental
authority on bases, bombing ranges and other military property totaling
30 million acres, a combined area larger than the state of Ohio.
Republicans last week slipped the measure into the Defense Department's
2004 budget authorization bill, legislation that needs to be
fast-tracked through Congress in order to keep the armed forces fully
funded. Opponents say that this linkage, combined with the release of
the initiative on the eve of war with Iraq, will make it much more
difficult to properly study, debate, amend or reject the proposal.

"I have dealt with the military for years, and they constantly seek to
get out from under environmental laws," said Rep. John D. Dingell
(D-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and
Commerce. "But using the threat of 9/11 and al-Qaida to get
unprecedented environmental immunity is despicable." The exemptions are
unneeded, since
environmental-protection regulations have never interfered with military
training and readiness, Dingell told Salon. If there ever is a conflict
between the two, he added, environmental laws already provide for
case-by-case exemptions.

Even within the Bush administration, the exemptions proposed last
Thursday have provoked disagreement and opposition. The exemptions are
similar to those proposed by the Bush administration last year, which
Congress defeated. That bill, prompted by 9/11, would have given blanket
exemptions from eight key environmental laws to all military forces
conducting exercises.

The new, rewritten bill claims that the military is unable to prepare
for war so long as it is hamstrung by provisions of the Endangered
Species Act, Clean Air Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act, and Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation and Liability Act (better known as the Superfund Law).

The administration claims that these laws hamper soldier training and
military readiness. According to the environmental news service
Greenwire, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified at a Feb. 5
congressional hearing that the new exemptions will "clarify
environmental statutes which restrict access to, and sustainment of,
training and test ranges essential
for the readiness of our troops and the effectiveness of our weapons
systems in the global war on terror."

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
and a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, backed
Rumsfeld's claim, noting that environmental issues affecting military
training exercises must be resolved quickly, especially since military
training facilities are now operating at "absolute peak" in anticipation
of war, reported the Environment and Energy Daily. "We're not being fair
to the military," Warner said.

Environmentalists vehemently disagree. "This bill is an attempt to roll
back the laws that keep our air clean, that protect us from cancer
caused by toxic waste, and that conserve our most endangered species,"
Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense
Council, said in an interview. "To gut environmental protections on 30
million acres across our country is bad for local communities and for
the soldiers who serve on those military bases, all who will have to
deal with the health and environmental consequences. To undermine our
environmental laws and ram this bill through Congress at this time, and
in this way, is
cynical even by the standards of this administration."

The U.S. military is already the worst polluter in the nation, with
28,000 current and formerly contaminated sites scattered across every
state and extending to some far-flung territories.

The exemption bill would override laws for the disposal of hazardous
waste by changing the definition of "solid waste" to exclude explosives,
munitions, munitions fragments and other toxic material. It would allow
spent, toxic munitions to be left lying exposed on target ranges where
they can leach into lakes, rivers, marshes and groundwater. It would
also weaken the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and of
state agencies to guard communities from Defense Department toxic waste,
and would prevent the states from collecting damages against the
Pentagon when its contaminants damaged sensitive natural resources,
according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In a recent New York Times report, environmentalists warned that the
bill would also allow the Pentagon to pass the buck. Cleaning up the
most contaminated hazardous-waste sites would be mostly paid for not by
the military polluter but by state governments, which with their
severely strained budgets can ill afford the expense.

"There are obvious environmental-justice implications to all of these
hazardous-waste exemptions," Jasny said. "People that live near military
bases and soldiers who live on those bases -- who are exposed to these
environmental hazards -- are in many instances disproportionately of
minority backgrounds and among our poorest citizens. Those are the
who will suffer most should this bill pass."

The Pentagon initiative would also lift the mandate for ensuring that
military activities do not worsen air quality. Clean Air Act exemptions
would broaden the definition of "training" to exclude even the control
of emissions caused by nonmilitary activities, such as driving vehicles
on military bases or even spraying pesticides on a right of way.

One need look no further than Fort Wainright, Alaska, to see the impact
of giving the Pentagon a blanket air-quality exemption. The base's
antiquated coal-burning power plant has been ordered to pay $16 million
in air-quality fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a
10-year period. It was cited for 450 state environmental violations in a

single month.

Changes in another law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, seem intended
to squelch litigious battles between environmentalists and the Navy over
the implementation of a low-frequency active sonar system that may
possibly lead to whale beachings and deaths. Last fall, a federal court
stopped the Navy from deploying the system, pending a trial.

While the Navy says that the sonar system is vital for detecting enemy
"stealth" submarines and that it will harm few whales, Marsh Green, the
president of the Ocean Mammal Institute, disagrees. "There is a
significant body of research showing that whales avoid underwater sounds

starting at 110 to 120 decibels," the animal behavior specialist told
the Christian Science Monitor. But "the sonar sound field around the
[Navy] transmitting ship will be 180 decibels up to one kilometer (0.6
miles) away and 150 to 160 decibels up to 160 kilometers (100 miles)
away ... This means that many marine animals will be exposed to sonar
levels capable of causing stranding and, possibly, lung hemorrhaging
over large areas of the ocean." Dr. Kenneth Balcomb, executive director
of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., has likened
the biological harm done by high-powered sonar to that caused by
"fishing with dynamite."

Other military exemptions to the Endangered Species Act would do
significant harm to America's natural heritage. "Although [Defense
Department]-managed lands represent only about 3 percent of the total
federal land inventory, there is strong evidence that they have
disproportionate value in terms of biodiversity," states a 1996 Defense
Department report. The report, jointly written by the Pentagon and the
Nature Conservancy, goes on to say that there are "more than 220
Federally listed species as confirmed residents on, or migrants through,
lands." The new Endangered Species Act exemption would put all of those
species at risk, while offering no significant benefit to national

"With regard to the Endangered Species Act, the military again seeks to
have exemptions for which no other federal agencies are eligible," said
Dingell. The act "requires that land where threatened or endangered
species live be designated critical habitat. The military does not want
to comply with this law like every other federal agency and every other
American citizen does. As the author of [the Endangered Species Act], I
can assure you that exemptions are available for reasons of national
security. In fact, Section 7 of [the act] allows agencies to get waivers
from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Ironically, the Pentagon wants a
blanket waiver even though they have never sought a Section 7

Critics of the Bush exemption plan have concluded that none of the
blanket exemptions are necessary, noting that the Pentagon has failed to
make a compelling case that existing environmental laws impede military
readiness. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, the senior Democrat
on the House Resources Committee, adds that existing exemptions "have
quite well to ensure that our armed services remain combat-ready and
that our homeland environment remains safe and healthy," reported the
Washington Post.

A 2002 General Accounting Office study of military training, the Post
also noted, found that training readiness remained high for most units
and that military readiness data does not support the Pentagon's
assertion of being hurt by environmental laws.

Also dissenting from the Pentagon view is Environmental Protection
Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. "I don't believe there is
any training mission in the United States that is being held up because
of environmental regulations," she said last month in remarks reported
by Environment and Energy Daily.

The National Park Service, too, has weighed in against the Pentagon
exemption plan. Criticizing an early draft of the bill, the Park Service
said its provisions "would cause substantial degradation of natural
resources, including migratory birds, marine mammals ... and water

While conservation groups expect a tough battle, they are unwilling to
surrender any ground. Last year's congressional approval of a single
component of the Defense Department's 2002 exemption package tells why.
That measure led to a waiver freeing the Pentagon from adherence to the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects 859 species of birds from

"The provision, which was inserted at the Bush administration's request,
will effectively give the Defense Department license to bomb and destroy
at will the natural habitats of migratory birds, endangering more than 1
million birds and curtailing the enjoyment of more than 50 million bird
enthusiasts in this country," said Dingell.

The first victim of last year's congressional surrender to Rumsfeld's
Migratory Bird Treaty "clarification" may be the endangered Micronesian
megapode, a pigeon-size gray-brown bird with a rough crest that uses
solar energy to incubate its eggs. Fewer than 2,000 of the birds are
known to exist on U.S.-controlled Pacific islands. Paradoxically, as the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to conserve and nurture the bird on
some islands, the Navy is reserving the right to bomb it into oblivion
on others.

Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based
environmental group, blocked Navy bombing exercises on the Pacific atoll
of Farallon de Medinilla to protect the endangered bird. During the
ensuing court case, the Bush administration's disdain for nature became
clear with a now famous remark: A government lawyer argued that killing
birds should not be considered a bad thing, because "bird watchers get
more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one."

The judge in the case ordered the Defense Department to stop bombing
until it came into compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

But congressional approval of the Bird Treaty exemption last autumn
means that court judgment is now moot, and the Micronesian megapode may
be headed toward extinction on Farallon de Medinilla. Large numbers of
frigate birds and masked red-footed and brown boobies would also be
targeted within the Navy's bombing sights.

The Bird Treaty waiver offers another example of Bush's disregard for
international law. The treaty has been in effect since 1918, and it
never presented an issue of national security in World War II, the
Korean or Vietnam wars, or during the first war with Iraq.

In response to the Defense Department's chief claim that it is seeking a
balance between military readiness and environmental protection, Jasny
responds: "There is no balance in letting the military contaminate our
drinking water, as they have done on Cape Cod; neglecting or abandoning
deadly toxic waste sites, as they have done in minority communities like

Anniston, Ala.; and causing whales to strand and die on our beaches."

Even in this time of great national uncertainty and fear of terror, the
Pentagon might take a cue from an observation made in the mid-1990s by
then-Defense Secretary William J. Perry. "Protecting our national
security in the post-Cold War era," Perry said, "includes integrating
the best environmental practices into all Department of Defense

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