2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 17 Mar 2003 19:33:34 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Readiness Hearing
The following was posted by Ted Henry <ted@theodorejhenry.com>

On March 13, the US House of Representatives Readiness Subcommittee
Hearing received testimony on the Department of Defense’s request for
exemptions from complying with major environmental laws. A diverse group
of speakers were invited to present their perspectives regarding the
challenges we all face in balancing military readiness and environmental
protection. A key to finding the right balance on a tough issue is to
hear the diverse opinions from knowledgeable and affected individuals.
Based on this early hearing, the right balance will not be found.

The first panel included four representatives from DOD and the Armed
Forces. The second panel included three appointees from federal
environmental agencies, representing the US Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), Department of Interior (DOI) and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The third panel consisted of three
grassroots/non-profit organizations, specifically The Ocean Conservancy,
Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) and Environmental
Defense. It had all the makings for a healthy exchange of information,
but instead turned into a dog and pony show where all federal agencies
under the Bush administration spoke with one voice in the name of

Understandably, the military representatives made their case for why
they need changes to the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Act,
Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
(also known as CERCLA or Superfund). Examples included the inability to
use camouflage cover due to potential risks to woodpeckers at one site,
and how certain installations are restricted from using a majority of
its land for training due to environmental restrictions.

The simple truth is that DOD has the primary mission of preparing for
war to protect our nation. It is only logical that they would request
changes to environmental laws that make achieving their primary
objective more costly or complicated. However, many jobs are not
supposed to be easy and it is imperative for the environment and public
health that destructive or contaminating practices, even military
training, remain difficult. I would not want medical school to be made
easier so institutions can have a higher graduation rate, if you know
what I mean.

These issues within our country that can have the greatest impact on our
lives should be challenging. Balancing pros and cons brings insights and
we must carefully balance destruction of our homeland in the name of
protecting it. This responsibility to protect our environment, natural
resources and public health falls, in part, to the federal environmental
agencies such as EPA, DOI and NOAA who spoke at the hearing. Yet, each
agency informed the House Readiness Subcommittee that their respective
agencies have worked in concert with DOD on these proposed changes and
support such changes. In short, the presence of these agencies at the
hearing did not bring the Subcommittee insight or pros and cons to
weigh.  Instead, these agencies brought the message that impacts to
human health and the environment will be minimal if at all.

For instance, the EPA political appointee was John Peter Suarez,
Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
within EPA Headquarters. He informed the Honorable Joel Hefley (R-CO)
that EPA has a good working relationship with DOD. However, this is
inconsistent with the decade long battle between EPA and DOD on how this
country will deal with munitions-related contamination – a major driver
for the requested exemption from CERCLA and RCRA.  Under the proposed
language munitions and its contents located on ranges would be excluded
from regulation while the range is active. While Mr. Suarez indicated
that EPA would still have the necessary authority to force the
monitoring necessary to protect communities from migrating
contamination, it is not clear that this is accurate or realistic.

There are many military sites across the nation where migrating
contamination is threatening neighborhoods.  At some sites strong
working relationships exist between the military, federal and state
regulators and the local communities. At many other sites it is far more
adversarial. In either case, make no mistake about it, it is the stick
of environmental regulation and the authority of the state or EPA to
take action to protect human health and environment when the working
relationship fails that makes the polluter receptive to coming to the
table to resolve issues and investing the time and money necessary to
make it happen. With these exemptions, the stick largely disappears.

Anyone who has worked within the military environmental system will tell
you that regulatory drivers dictate which environmental efforts get
funded. A perfect example is perchlorate in drinking water supplies of
several states. DOD’s current stance is that no treatment of perchlorate
will take place until there is an enforceable cleanup standard developed
by the EPA. The truth is that funds are always limited, so significant
resources will always and only be spent on what is required. Almost all
environmental projects by the military have been and will be those
required to fulfill its primary mission or required by environmental

To provide our military special protection from environmental
regulations that everyone else must follow is very serious business, as
federal facilities represent the biggest source of environmental
contamination. If such exemptions are passed, regulatory drivers will
disappear and funding for such issues will be directed elsewhere.  The
authority of environmental agencies to find and address training-related
contamination will be reduced and employees for military agencies and
regulators alike who want to do their jobs will have their hands tied.
As a consequence, working relationships will deteriorate and legal
actions will increase (although more likely to be futile).

In short, these exemptions could drastically change the risks people
face living near military installations and gut a citizen’s ability to
participate in the environmental process. With such important issues on
the line, it is terribly unfortunate that the federal environmental
agencies are coming before Congress with their attentions focused on
speaking with one voice rather than focusing on their respective needs
to fulfill their missions.

Most interesting, it is subtly ironic how the collective efforts within
the Bush administration to present a united front to Congress actually
reveal the true dangers of these proposed exemptions. The absence of a
single divergent or opposing perspective from a federal employee in the
hearing shows just how the voice of environmental protection can be
silenced by political or economic agendas.  This is the very reason why
environmental laws are so important and why environmental compliance
requirements by federal facilities were signed into law by the first
President Bush.

Unlike last year, the non-profit organizations were invited to present a
different perspective – mainly that a working dialogue on urban sprawl
or encroachment, the already existing temporary exemptions within
specific laws and potential administrative improvements to the
permitting process can provide DOD the flexibility it needs to ensure
readiness without providing broad exemptions through legislative
change.  But to be honest, the deck is stacked with impending war, the
silence of the federal environmental agencies and the belief expressed
by various subcommittee members that DOD readiness has been impeded.
Chairmen Hefley made it very clear that they were not there to debate
whether military readiness has been impeded, noting that that case has
already be shown convincingly. He instead explained that they were
holding the hearing to discuss whether the proposed exemptions are
adequate to meet readiness and still balanced environmental needs.

Community and environmental organizations will need to take note that
there is growing chatter in Washington DC that various environmental
groups are radical and irrelevant to substantive discussion on military
readiness.  If people want to succeed in stopping any of these
exemptions from being passed, let alone all of them, it is my opinion
that this is not a time for spin and rhetoric. It is not a time to paint
DOD and the services as environmental heathens. While this is almost
always counterproductive regardless of the time, my opinion is that to
do so now will only seal the fate of the whales and other marine mammals
as well as community efforts to influence health and environmental
actions at their individual sites.

Understand that there was no mention in any part of the hearing about
indicator species and how impacts to individual species can bring
significant, yet difficult to measure, changes to the ecosystem.  There
was little discussion about how rudimentary our abilities are to measure
impacts to marine mammals. There was no significant exploration of how
these exemptions would alter the environmental processes and working
relationships at an Aberdeen Proving Ground, a Rocky Mountain Arsenal or
29 Palms. There were no questions from committee members asking what
mechanisms would be in place to ensure that these exemptions do not
impact past efforts to protect communities and the ecology.

Given the atmosphere on the Hill, our elected officials need to hear
evidence, logic and passion from those against these exemptions. It is a
time to use real life examples of improvements that would not have been
possible without such laws. It is a time to give concrete, reality-based
examples of how such exemptions would impact the critical work done on
the local level. It is a time to provide detailed alternatives to
elected officials that show a strong willingness to work together to
meet readiness needs while keeping the heart of environmental protection

To underscore the tough road ahead, this summary would not be complete
without noting one late addition to the grassroots panel. A doctor from
Woods Hole spoke first. Her place of work and her technical knowledge
did not go unnoticed as she expressed her support for the exemptions.
She spoke of how the courts are interpreting the language within the
Marine Mammal Protection Act so broadly that, despite years of work to
get the appropriate permits, the courts are still bringing sound,
peer-reviewed efforts to a standstill. During this discussion she noted
how one environmental organization is misapplying her own data and how
her colleague was shut down through an environmental lawsuit, which
would have provided very valuable data on how to protect marine mammals
in the long-term.

In our discussion after the session she pointed out to me that the Navy
funds 95% of the marine mammal research world-wide. One can only hope
that the pending MMPA exemption and future ones to come do not provide
the Navy with so much protection that this funding disappears.

At the end of this hearing one thing was certain: broad federal agency
concurrence with support from a highly respected academic institution,
provided a swift one, two-punch  that put environmental protection at
federal facilities on the canvas. While the fight is not over, we will
need strong legs and clear vision to have a chance in this heavy weight
bout where the judges are leaning toward the boxer in the camouflage

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