Bush Supports Defense Department Exemption From Environmental, Health Protections

May 04, 2004

The Department of Defense (DoD) has asked Congress for blanket exemptions from three major federal environmental and health laws. These changes would effectively exempt DoD's operations on 25 million acres of training ranges from local, state, tribal or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversight and regulation for toxics releases, hazardous waste contamination, and air pollution.

Even though each law already allows for exemptions in cases of national security, the Bush Administration wants to enable one of the nation's largest polluters -- the Department of Defense -- to evade laws protecting public health and the environment.[1]

The DoD has asserted that adhering to environmental protection laws compromises military training and readiness. However, a General Accounting Office report in 2002 found that the Pentagon could not substantiate this claim.

Further, in testimony before the Senate in February, 2003, Christine Todd Whitman, then-administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, noted that EPA and DoD worked very closely together. "I don't believe there is a training mission anywhere in the country that is being held up or not taking place because of environmental protection regulation," Whitman told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.[2]

Late last year the Pentagon succeeded in gaining exemptions to habitat preservation rules under the Endangered Species Act, as well as overall wildlife protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.[3] A coalition of environmental and public health advocacy groups opposed the changes, noting that "[t]he military has, time and time again, found reasonable solutions to pursue necessary training in compliance with environmental laws."[4]

The Pentagon-proposed changes to the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) would range from removing explosives, munitions, chemical weapons and other materials from the law's definition of "solid waste," to blocking the authority of states, tribes, and the EPA to require investigation and cleanup of toxic munitions contamination on military sites, even when an off-site threat to public health develops.

The DoD's changes to the federal Superfund law would effectively absolve DoD of any responsibility for toxic releases under the law, remove EPA's ability to enforce Superfund regulations on military training sites, and undercut state power to collect damages from the DoD when toxic munitions contamination affects public resources including wildlife, fisheries, and public recreational lands.

Currently the Clean Air Act requires all federal agencies, including Defense, to mitigate any activities that negatively impact a state's EPA-mandated target for air quality. The DoD is seeking a three-year exemption for air pollution caused by a broad range of military activities.

The proposed changes would require EPA to approve state air cleanup plans even if they fail to compensate for military-generated pollution, and would exempt states from facing more serious classifications and other public health requirements if they missed their targets for air quality.[5]

Paul Mayberry, the DoD's deputy undersecretary for readiness, recently told reporters the proposed exemptions were "all about readiness," and that the laws inhibited the military's ability to train realistically.[6]

However, the Department admitted to state officials late last year that the laws have never hampered military preparedness -- nor have states ever used their authority under RCRA or the Superfund law in a way that compromised readiness. It has also failed to show any case where enforcement of the Clean Air Act put national security at risk.[7]

[1] Natural Resources Defense Council press release.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Defender Action Fund report on Senate Roll Call #190, 108th Congress, 1st Session
[4] "Oppose the Department of Defense Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative," Defender of Wildlife et al.
[5] NRDC press release, op cit.
[6] "Pentagon renews request for environmental exemptions," GovExec.com.
[7] NRDC press release, op cit.

Source: http://www.bushgreenwatch.org/mt_archives/000110.php


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