Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

NEWS ADVISORY -- August 21, 2003

Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist 520.623.5252 x 306
Susan Holmes, Earthjustice 202.667.4500
More Information: Environmental Fines Assessed Against DOD 1995-2001


WASHINGTON DC -- An eight-month struggle over whether America’s military will receive special exemptions from public health and environmental laws will finally be resolved in September. A House-Senate conference committee plans to finalize its work on the Fiscal Year 2004 Defense Authorization bill shortly after Labor Day. The committee will decide the fate of proposed sweeping new exemptions from critical provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) covering tens of thousands of acres of military lands and waters and broad areas of military activities, along with a special rider that would jeopardize the San Pedro River National Conservation Area in Arizona. Senators McCain and Levin are key conferees who will help craft the final bill.

The conferees must resolve differences between the Defense Authorization bills passed by the House and Senate, including serious differences on military environmental exemptions. The House bill includes virtually blank-check exemptions for the Department of Defense (DOD) from the ESA and MMPA, along with a special rider exempting Fort Huachuca in Arizona from water conservation requirements.

The Senate rejected DOD’s proposal for a blanket exemption from the Endangered Species Act, instead adopting a bipartisan amendment allowing case-by-case ESA exemptions if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines that they are warranted. The Senate also opted to leave proposed changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act out of the Defense Authorization bill, and allow the Commerce Committee which is already working on a complete reauthorization of the MMPA to consider DOD’s proposals in the context of other possible changes to the law.

A major struggle is brewing in Washington, with key Republican leaders in the House fighting to keep their blank-check exemptions instead of the Senate’s more reasonable bipartisan proposal.


Recent events have confirmed that the Senate’s more reasonable approach is the best way to ensure military training while protecting our health and environment.

  • Key House Republican says keep marine mammal language out of DOD bill

    Republican Representative Wayne Gilchrest Chair of the Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee recently asserted the Resource Committee’s jurisdiction over the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Gilchrest told Defense Authorization conferees that the military MMPA exemption included in the House bill should be removed. Gilchrest’s subcommittee is in the process of revising the MMPA, and he wants all changes considered in context as part of their update of the law.

  • House bill also preempts Senate Commerce Committee MMPA revision

    The Senate Commerce Committee is also working on a reauthorization of the MMPA and has promised to consider DOD’s concerns. All this raises the question: why not let the committees that understand marine mammal issues consider DOD’s request while they’re working on a general MMPA revision?

  • Army fire destroys endangered species at Makua Valley

    In late July, a “controlled” burn at the Army’s Makua Military Reservation in Hawai’i ran wild and scorched almost 3,000 acres of federal and state lands that include dozens of endangered species, some found nowhere else on earth. July’s fire is only the latest in a pattern of blazes over several years that have destroyed habitat crucial to the survival of endangered species and threatened Native Hawaiian cultural sites. Makua could become exempt from the ESA and from any meaningful oversight by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the House bill. The Army’s Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan (INRMP) for Makua which would be substituted for critical habitat designation under the House bill failed to prevent this and other damage to endangered species.

  • Navy sonar traumatizes whales in Haro Strait

Navy sonar traumatized and may have killed whales and porpoises in Washington’s Haro Strait in early May. The sonar’s intense sound was clearly audible above the water, and much louder to marine mammals and their extraordinarily sensitive hearing below the surface. Scientific eyewitnesses said that the sonar definitely affected an entire pod of orcas, a minke whale, and porpoises, all of which expressed agitation and fear, and desperately attempted to flee the area. Porpoises were later found dead on nearby beaches. In May, Washington Governor Gary Locke asked the Navy for a full report on the Haro Strait incident and requested a plan to mitigate the impact of Navy sonar on marine mammals in Puget Sound. The Vancouver Sun recently reported that the federal government’s analysis will not be completed for several more months. Navy sonar previously caused the beaching and death of beaked whales in the Bahamas, and has been linked to strandings and deaths in at least five other incidents.

  • DOD environmental fines and penalties still on upward trend

    The Pentagon’s own data demonstrate that fines and penalties assessed against the DOD continue to climb. As the attached chart shows, the trend of environmental fines and penalties levied against the military by federal agencies, states, and local governments continues its steady climb. The data do not include a $27 million penalty (later reduced to $16 million) assessed against the Army’s Fort Wainwright for consistent and dangerous violations of the Clean Air Act. Will DOD’s reward for breaking environmental and public health laws be a get-out-of-jail-free card?

  • Pentagon mislead Congress about Camp Pendleton

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg who sponsored the bipartisan compromise ESA amendment recently rebutted claims made by the Pentagon about training at Camp Pendleton in California. Senator Lautenberg points out that the Pentagon’s claim that the ESA limits training on over half of Camp Pendleton is patently false. In fact, critical habitat for endangered species covers less than 1% of the training lands on the base. The explosive growth of nearby urban areas, the lease of base lands for private agricultural operations, San Onofre nuclear power plant, and Interstate Highway 5 are the real pressures on Camp Pendleton.


San Pedro River National Conservation Area

Arizona Representative Rick Renzi attached a rider to the House Defense Authorization bill, exempting the DOD from any responsibility for off-base water use including “irrigation and landscaping” caused by the Fort’s presence and activities. The rider seeks to undercut a cooperative water conservation agreement reached last year between the base and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and supported by local environmentalists. If the rider passes, the San Pedro River -- designated by Congress as a National Conservation Area because of its unique biodiversity -- will almost certainly die.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

The House bill would issue a blank check to DOD, allowing the Pentagon to substitute its own Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans which are often never funded or implemented for the designation of critical habitat to ensure the survival of endangered species on military lands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already found INRMPs to be inadequate to protect endangered species, and already has and consistently uses the authority to tailor critical habitat designations in deference to military training.

The Senate adopted a bipartisan amendment to allow the DOD to substitute its INRMPs for critical habitat designation, but only if the plans are reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the agency’s director certifies that they will in fact protect wildlife, and that there are adequate guarantees that the provisions will be funded and implemented.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)

The Senate has already agreed that any changes to the MMPA should occur in the committee of jurisdiction the Commerce Committee where members and staff are most knowledgeable about the MMPA and can consider any changes in context. However, the House adopted DOD’s proposed wholesale MMPA exemption, which seeks to allow the Pentagon to avoid review of its actions by other agencies and attempts to exempt the military from existing restrictions that state that any killing or injuring of marine mammals must be limited to small numbers in a specific geographic area.


more press releases. . .

Go back