|Citizens' Report on the||March, 1995|
|Published by the Pacific Studies Center and SFSU CAREER/PRO||Volume II, Number 2|
NEW BASE CLOSURE LIST: CLEANUP AGAIN A CONCERN
The Pentagon's new list of proposed major base closures includes nine "Superfund" sites and numerous other seriously contaminated properties. Cleaning up those facilities, according to the Defense Department's most recently released figures, should cost more than $900 million.
Yet even before the ink is dry on the closure list, Congress is considering a $150 million to $300 million rescission in fiscal year 1995 cleanup funds. Though the money will be taken from the Defense Environmental Restoration Account (DERA) -- not Base Realignment and Closure Accounts -- it could seriously hamper cleanup efforts at these bases. Environmental cleanup at all but two of the facilities -- Bergstrom Air Reserve Base and the Rome Air Development Laboratory, which are located on already closing bases -- will be funded through DERA in 1995 and 1996, even if they close.
The actual cost of cleaning up the 1995 round of closures is likely to be much higher, for four reasons:
(Note: The term "Superfund" refers to facilities listed on the U.S. EPA's National Priorities List of properties posing the greatest threat to human health and the environment. For all military bases, cleanup funding comes from the Defense budget, not EPA's "Superfund." Major portions of Griffiss Air Force Base, location of the Rome Laboratory, were approved for closure in 1993, but Rome is counted here as a Superfund site in the current closure round.)
GAO REPORTS CHEM WEAPONS
A new General Accounting Office (GAO) analysis concludes that the Army's program to incinerate the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile will cost at least $11.1 billion, a 29% increase from estimates made as recently as December, 1993. The new total represents more than a five-fold growth in costs since Congress authorized the Army's original $1.7 billion dollar proposal in 1985.
In a January, 1995 letter to Army Secretary Togo West, the GAO strongly criticized the Army's methodology for estimating the costs of incineration, particularly projections based on its prototype facility at Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean. GAO noted that the Army assumed future facilities would operate around-the-clock even though Johnston Atoll averaged only eight hours of operation per day. Recently the Army filed a permit application to extend the Johnston Atoll facility's life by five years, at an added cost of $640 million, because it failed to complete its mission in its original permit period. This brings the total budget of the Johnston Atoll prototype to $1.3 billion compared with the Army's original projection of $233 million.
The GAO letter was made public by the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG), an alliance of groups seeking alternatives to incineration. CWWG spokesperson Craig Williams, who lives near a proposed chemical weapons incinerator in Kentucky explained, "Chemical weapons incineration is a runaway spending program based on outdated technology. The GAO agrees that the Army's projections are based on faulty data and wishful thinking. It's time to abandon incineration and get on with developing safer, more cost-effective alternatives."
The GAO report concluded, "Because cost estimates to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile continue to increase and the current $11 billion estimate is understated, we recommend that you. . .develop revised program cost estimates and schedules that accurately reflect actual experiences demonstrated during sustained 24 hour per day operations. . .."
The GAO specifically criticized the planned purchase of dunnage incinerators noting, "the Army's strategy could result in acquisition of unneeded equipment." Instead the report recommended the military "postpone acquisition of dunnage incineration equipment until alternative waste management practices are fully evaluated, and the operational effectiveness and need for the current equipment are demonstrated."
Williams concluded, "If Congress is serious about budgetary concerns, this is definitely a program they should closely examine. It's clearly out of control, lacks accountability, and reeks of sweetheart deals between the Army and its insider contractors."
This article is taken from a press release issued by the CWWG, which can be contacted by phone at 606/986-7565. Mail: P.O. Box 467, Berea, KY 40403. The GAO report, "Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program Review" (GAO/NSIAD-95-66R) may be requested from GAO (single copies are free) by calling 202/512-6000 or by sending a fax to 301/258-4066.
DERTF TO MEET IN SAN BERNADINO
The Defense Environmental Response Task Force (DERTF), a high-level Federal committee responsible for improving cleanup strategies at closing military bases, is scheduled to meet in San Bernadino, California, May 23-24.
There is a public comment period scheduled for Wednesday, May 24 at 7:00 pm. This a is a good opportunity for RAB members from throughout Southern California to give direct input to policy-makers. (We will include details in our next issue.)
CONGRESSIONAL FUNDING DEBATE
On February 7, Congressman Joel Hefley (R-Colorado), the new chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee on Military Installations, warned that Congress is likely to cut military base cleanup funds even more deeply this year. In a February 7, 1995 letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, Hefley "encouraged" EPA to reach a remedy selection agreement at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal through negotiation.
Hefley was suggesting that budget imperatives should drive the establishment of cleanup goals and remedies, although recent court decisions determined that the state of Colorado could establish cleanup requirements for the Army at the Arsenal.
Then, early in March, the Senate Appropriations Committee doubled the House of Representatives' rescission in fiscal year 1995 Defense cleanup spending. It proposed to cut $300 million, not $150 million, from the Defense Environmental Restoration Account (DERA) to pay for other Defense program, dropping non-base closure environmental restoration funding for cleanup to $1.48 billion nearly halfway through the fiscal year. That level may stick.
Nevertheless, when the rescission hit the Senate floor, DERA found an unexpected friend in Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). McCain proposed an amendment to reduce the rescission to the House level, $150 million, but he failed to gain any Democratic support because he would have taken the money from one of their favorite industrial policy programs, the Technology Reinvestment Program.
Still McCain's debate with Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) may foreshadow the upcoming debate over cleanup funding for fiscal year 1996. McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee's Readiness Committee, with jurisdiction over environmental programs, while Stevens head the Defense Appropriations Committee. Those two men, therefore, are probably the two Senators likely to have the most direct impact on Defense environmental spending this year.
Senator McCain affirmed the Federal government's responsibility for contamination that it has caused. He argued, "Madam President, the fact is that when we close a base or even if we have an open base and there is an environmental problem on those bases, I think our obligation is clear. Our obligation is clear that we clean up that base. Clearly, it is a very expensive proposition. And there is no doubt that if we cut these funds, somewhere there will be military installations that are environmentally unsafe.
"I do not see how we get around that obligation. I do not see how we can just cut money for environmental cleanup and ignore the very severe situations that exist today. There is a base in my own home state. It will be many years before the environmental cleanup is completed. The estimate of the cost of that cleanup, by the way, has increased by a factor of ten since the base was recommended to be closed just three years ago.
"So, I do not really understand how we rationalize a reduction in environmental cleanup funds. I do not think my record indicates that I am some kind of a wild-eyed environmentalist, to say the least. But I do not see how we cannot fulfill the obligation that we have to the taxpayers of America, and that is to clean up defense installations which reside in their States and their communities that are in need of environmental cleanup."
Senator Stevens countered with a complaint now commonly heard from Congress: "But the problem really is that if we look at the environmental account, which we did in great detail, we are looking at a project where they still plan to spend $810 million in this fiscal year on studies of these environmental restoration sites.We have eliminated a substantial portion of those studies.That is what our cut does.
"We have urged that the Department proceed now and not spend so much money studying these projects and instead do them. They are not that large and they mostly can be done without these enormous nationwide studies. They just seem to be enveloped in studies.
"We will have reduced the budget request by $700 million through this rescission, and it is primarily aimed at that study account. If we look at this account, as I have said, DOD has spent almost 60 percent of all of the cleanup funds we have made available so far on studies. We think that at a time of emergencies such as this is, it is time to reallocate funds."
GAO CASE STUDIES
A recent study by the U.S. General Accounting Office provides an unusual amount of specific information on cleanup programs at six military bases. "Environmental Cleanup: Case Studies of Six High Priority DOD Installations," reviews contamination problems, cleanup options, the regulatory process, funding, and the staffing situation at the multi-base Pearl Harbor Navy Complex (Hawaii) and five additional bases, all of which contain at least one major property on the Superfund "National Priorities List." The five other bases include two of the military's most expensive cleanup challenges, McClellan Air Force Base (Sacramento, California) and the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground (Maryland). The remaining three installations covered are McChord Air Force Base (Tacoma, Washington), Fort Wainwright (U.S. Army, Alaska), and the Schofield Barracks (U.S. Army, Hawaii).
"Environmental Cleanup: Case Studies of Six High Priority DOD Installations," was published in November, 1994 as GAO/NSIAD-95-8. Like other GAO reports, it can be ordered (single copies are free) by calling 202/512-6000 or by sending a fax to 301/258-4066.