The Defense Department wants the government to ease environmental laws to avoid costly cleanups of military ranges and give states more time to handle air pollution from training exercises.
The proposed changes were submitted to Congress on Tuesday, part of the Pentagon’s renewed drive to ease several environmental laws in the name of military readiness. Since 2002, the Bush administration has sought more flexibility in complying with the laws, claiming that environmental restrictions are compromising training and readiness.
Congress has approved five of the eight changes sought by the Pentagon so far.
Defense officials told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon that lawsuits from environmental groups could cripple training exercises on 525 operational range complexes nationwide. For example, environmentalists routinely sue to force the government to designate more “critical habitat” — lands needed for endangered species to recover.
“We as a department cannot wait for a train wreck,” Paul Mayberry, deputy undersecretary of defense for readiness, said, explaining the need for a third consecutive year of requests from Congress.
Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, pointed to the $4 billion spent yearly on military environmental programs. “Clearly, this obligation is taken seriously by this department,” he said.
Obliged to ask?
But environmentalists said the military has been trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, seeking changes to laws that would undermine the nation’s natural resources under the pretext of national security.
“They’re asking for blanket exemptions here, and they’re asking for exemptions even in cases where there’s no problems,” said Karen Wayland, legislative director for Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
In the name of good government and protecting public health, the military “ought to have to ask permission every time it wants to endanger military families and communities that live near the bases,” Wayland said.
Congressional investigators in 2002 found little evidence to support the Bush administration’s claims that environmental laws hamper military training.
Defense officials submitted their proposal to lawmakers who approve military and budget spending.
Air, waste laws
The Pentagon wants the Clean Air Act amended so that any additional air pollution from training exercises wouldn’t have to be counted for three years in the plans which states must approve for how they will meet federal requirements. States could require compensatory cuts in air pollution from other sources, such as power plants.
It also wants changes in toxic waste laws to let the military avoid cleansing land of munitions used for normal purposes on operational ranges, according to defense officials.
Some of the Pentagon’s previous requests approved by Congress were fewer requirements for designating critical habitat and a lower threshold for what can be considered “harassment” of a marine mammal.