Center for Biological Diversity

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NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Thursday, March 6, 2003

Pentagon Seeks Major Environmental Exemptions

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, ecologist 520.623.5252 x 306

WASHINGTON -- Earlier this week the Pentagon unveiled its plans for major exemptions to federal environmental and public health laws, including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Superfund, and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Please see today's Washington Post story below on the issue (below). It was also covered today in the NY Times.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said last week in testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, "I don't believe that there is a training mission anywhere in the country that is being held up or not taking place because of environmental protection regulation." (Wash. Post, 3/6)

"The Bush administration's dirty environmental record is only getting worse," said Daniel R. Patterson, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Pentagon is using the threat of war to gut 30 years of public interest legislation. Our military trains under the flexibility of existing law, and they have consistently proven to be well prepared as they dominate in battle."

For example, the Endangered Species Act includes a provision [Sec. 4(b)(2)] whereas the Sec. of Defense can exempt any specific military activity from the law. This has never been invoked.

The Bush administration has already pushed over 200 anti-environmental rollbacks, and average of one per week. Last year the Pentagon proposed a slightly weaker rollback proposal which was largely defeated in Congress due to strong opposition from state and local governments and conservationists, with the exception of a Migratory Bird Treaty Act modification.

The Senate and House Armed Services committees are expected to hold separate hearings specifically on the encroachment issue next Thursday with various Pentagon officials and environmental interest groups expected to testify.

Citizens' groups are concerned that these exemptions, if granted by Congress, would harm human health and wildlife, and also that industries such as energy, and agencies such as Dept. of Homeland Security may also push for exemptions.

Recently obtained DoD internal memos show locally negotiated ESA solutions tailored to local conditions are forbidden because they would contradict DOD's arguments on the Hill that the ESA doesn't work; "concessions ... could run counter to the legislative relief that we are continuing to pursue with Congress." The policy guidance centralizes at the Pentagon all decision making on proposed critical habitat designations and other ESA actions.

An internal DoD analysis of the Center's recent Mexican Spotted Owl critical habitat victory acknowledges that the 4b2 exemption gives FWS broad discretion to exclude military installations from critical habitat if there are "mission impacts." DoD does not mention this already existing case-by-case exemption in their proposed legislation.

DOD manages approximately 25 million acres of land, of which 16 million acres are public lands on more than 425 major military installations. These lands are home to at least 300 federally-listed species, with 79 threatened and endangered species living on 9 million acres of Air Force lands and waters, and 170 species and 12 critical habitat designations on 94 Army installations. A Marine Corps source said 181,040 acres of Marine-occupied land has critical habitat designations. The Navy did not have such data compiled.

"This is a big-time exemption attempt that will significantly affect wildlife and human health everywhere DoD operates," adds Patterson. "It is certainly not the minor clarification DoD has claimed it is seeking. National security should include defending our natural security provided by clean air and water, healthy fisheries and wildlife."

More Information: Above the Law? The Pentagon is Taking Aim at America's Public Health and Environmental Protections

WASHINGTON POST -- Thursday, March 6, 2003

Environmental Exemptions Sought For Readiness Efforts, Pentagon Says It Needs Relief From Rules

By Eric Pianin
Washington Post Staff Writer

With war looming in Iraq, the Bush administration this week asked Congress to exempt the Defense Department from a broad array of environmental laws governing air pollution, toxic waste dumps, endangered species and marine mammals.

The Pentagon says it needs the changes to ensure unfettered training and readiness activities, and to provide the military with relief from environmental regulations that protect endangered species and critical habitats on millions of acres of military training ranges across the country.

But, in some cases, the plan would also grant state officials greater flexibility in meeting federal clean air standards if they can demonstrate there was a sudden influx of jet fighters, tanks and other military hardware that added to the overall air pollution.

Congress rejected most of these proposals last year when they were floated at the last minute by the Pentagon. But this time the administration is moving early to promote them, and the House and Senate armed services committees are giving them prompt attention by scheduling hearings for next week.

The proposed changes, which began circulating on the Hill late Monday as part of the 2004 defense authorization bill, is certain to trigger a bruising battle pitting Pentagon officials and their allies in Congress against environmentalists and Democrats who fear a major rollback of some of the country's most important environmental laws.

Defense officials contend that their plan is designed to strike a "common sense" balance between environmental stewardship and wartime readiness.

"Fundamentally, these proposals are designed to ensure that the Defense Department can execute its military missions while still protecting the environment," a senior Pentagon official said yesterday. "They are mostly designed to confirm existing and longstanding policies that are under challenge in a variety of court cases."

A senior administration official said each of the proposed changes "is tailored toward giving [the Pentagon] a more flexible management path to meet the statutory objectives."

But Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, charged that "[t]his bill is a rollback of almost every major environmental law on the books."

Critics of the administration plan say it is not necessary, because the Pentagon has not made a compelling case that the laws on the books have impeded readiness activities, and because existing regulations already can be waived in the interests of national security.

A General Accounting Office report on military training issued in June found that "[t]raining readiness, as reported in official readiness reports, remains high for most units" and that readiness data do not support the Pentagon's claims that it is being hurt by the encroachment of environmental laws.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said last week in testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, "I don't believe that there is a training mission anywhere in the country that is being held up or not taking place because of environmental protection regulation."

Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the military for years has been trying to "get out from under" environmental laws. "But using the threat of 9/11 and al Qaeda to get unprecedented environmental immunity is despicable," he said.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (W.Va.), the senior Democrat on the House Resources Committee, said existing exemptions "have worked quite well to ensure that our armed services remain combat-ready and that our homeland environment remains safe and healthy."

The administration plan is designed to provide the Pentagon with exemptions from or loopholes in the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Superfund law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act when they affect readiness activities.

The changes in the clean air law would broaden the definition of "training" to exempt even nonmilitary activities, such as driving vehicles on military bases or from one training site to another, and the spraying of pesticides on a right of way. They would also eliminate time lines for the military to estimate the quantity of military emissions in air quality nonattainment areas.

The change in the marine mammal law would address a contentious dispute between environmentalists and the Navy over the use of a low-frequency active (LFA) sonar system that is suspected as the cause of numerous whale beachings in recent years. Last fall, a federal judge enjoined the Navy from deploying the system pending a trial.


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