The lndependent (UK)
March 13, 2003

Pentagon Seeks Freedom to Pollute Land, Air and Sea

by Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles

The Pentagon is quietly seeking exemptions from some of America's
main environmental laws, which would give the military free rein to
dump spent munitions, pollute the air and poison endangered species
at its bases without risk of liability for any damage.

The proposal, slipped into the fine print of the 2004 military budget
last week, is enraging environmentalists and some senior figures on
Capitol Hill, who say the Pentagon is taking shameless advantage of
the 11 September attacks and the looming war against Iraq to wriggle
out of its responsibilities to public health and the country's
natural heritage.

"There is no justification whatsoever for the exemptions they are
seeking. They do not even present examples of why they are seeking
this exemption," John Walke, a clean air specialist with the National
Resources Defense Council, said.

Among the laws the military is seeking to circumvent are the Clean
Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, important pieces of legislation
governing the clean-up of environmental disasters and the Marine
Mammal Protection Act. Navy sonars have been blamed for the deaths of
whales found washed up on beaches.

The Pentagon argues that it needs the exemptions because
environmental laws get in the way of training troops. That assessment
is contradicted by a recent report from Congress's General Accounting
Office, which saw no negative impact from environmental statutes on
military readiness.

Environmentalists point out that the White House already has the
authority to grant case-by-case exemptions where national security
might be at stake - something that has rarely happened. They also
cite last year's Pentagon budget report estimating the military's
liability for environmental degradation at about $28bn (17bn). "This
is not about military readiness," said Brock Evans, a former marine
now with the Endangered Species Coalition. "There are alternatives to
exempting themselves from environmental laws."

The Pentagon made a similar exemption proposal last year, only to see
it shot down by the Senate, controlled by Democrats at the time.

The move appears to be controversial even within the Bush
administration. Christine Todd Whitman, the White House's top
environmental official, told a Senate committee recently: "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." And John Ashcroft, the ultra-conservative
Attorney General, said protecting the environment was an important
element of national security. "These laws do more than just protect
the health and safety of our citizens," he said. "Compliance with and
enforcement of these laws makes a real difference in our level of
national preparedness."

The issue will be discussed today by two congressional subcommittees
on armed services readiness. One leading Democratic congressman, John
Dingell of Michigan, said the military had been trying for years to
"get out from under" environmental laws. "But using the threat of
9/11 and al-Qa'ida to get unprecedented environmental immunity is

Pollution from the military has provoked regular environmental
scandals - from rocket fuel contaminating drinking water to reports
of cancer clusters and other illnesses possibly caused by jet fuel
emissions or pipelines carrying heavy-duty fuel beneath houses.