2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 3 Nov 2003 17:26:57 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Toxic Immunity
Toxic Immunity
Faced with a hazardous-waste crisis, the Pentagon is pushing hard to
exempt itself from the nation's environmental laws.
Jon R. Luoma
November/December 2003 Issue

"It feels like somebody wrote a new rule -- the bigger a mess you make,
the easier it should be to just walk away," says Laura Olah, a Wisconsin
activist who heads a grassroots group called Citizens for Safe Water
Around Badger. Badger, in this case, is a former Army ammunition plant
near the town of Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin -- a sprawling industrial
complex that operated from World War II through the mid-1970s and
produced not only munitions, but a flood of toxic wastes. Today, a
witches' brew of contaminants, including the heavy metals mercury and
cadmium and the cancer-causing compounds carbon tetrachloride and
trichloroethylene, is seeping into the groundwater beneath the
7,300-acre site. For more than a decade, several local farm families
unwittingly drew their well water directly from the heart of the
contamination; in the nearby Wisconsin River, sediments are contaminated
with more than 20 times the allowable amount of mercury.

Olah says her group just wants the Defense Department to clean up the
site before it abandons Badger entirely. But the Pentagon has missed a
series of deadlines in a cleanup agreement with the state of Wisconsin.
In recent years, it has also backed away from a plan to remove large
volumes of contaminated soil from the base, proposing instead to fence
off and monitor the toxic hot spots.

Badger is hardly an isolated case. From Cape Cod in Massachusetts to
McClellan Air Force Base in California, the Pentagon is facing mounting
criticism for failing to clean up military sites contaminated with
everything from old munitions to radioactive materials and residues from
biological-weapons research. Now, citing the demands of the war on
terrorism and working with sympathetic officials in the administration
and Congress, the department has stepped up efforts to remove
substantial parts of its operations from environmental oversight.

Last December, Defense officials drew up a 24-page strategy memorandum,
laying out a plan for a "multi-year campaign" to exempt the military
from federal laws including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the
Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act, as well as rules
governing solid and hazardous wastes. The strategy also called for
Congress to state "that munitions deposited and remaining on operational
ranges are not 'solid wastes'" -- a move that with one stroke would
exempt the Pentagon from having to clean up the old shells, fuels, and
other weapons "constituents" that turn places like Badger into health

The Pentagon is seeking these changes even though current law already
allows it to gain exemptions from any environmental regulations that
might hinder military preparedness; according to a 2002 study by
Congress' General Accounting Office, the Defense Department has never
run into any significant problems in this regard.

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