Looser Environmental Restrictions on Military Sought by Bush
WASHINGTON The Bush administration is asking Congress to amend three environmental laws to reduce their impact on military ranges after failing to win the changes last year.
Administration officials circulated among federal agencies their proposed language for changing the laws in a Jan. 6 document obtained by The Associated Press. The language calls for the same changes that stalled in Congress last year.
Defense Department officials want 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 state plans for meeting federal air quality standards.
The document says that under the current law "it is becoming increasingly difficult to base military aircraft near developed areas."
Other changes sought are in the Superfund and the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The Pentagon opposes having to remove unexploded ordnance from its operational ranges. It also wants to delay cleanups until after contamination spreads beyond military boundaries.
Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the White House Office of Management and Budget was taking the lead on the three requests. "It's not in our hands," he said Wednesday. OMB officials had no immediate comment.
The Pentagon spends about $4 billion yearly on military environmental programs.
The Defense Department has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to make the requests more palatable to lawmakers. House Republicans want more details from the Pentagon before making a commitment to act on the administration's latest request, said GOP aides, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Environmentalists continue to oppose the requests.
"They would allow the Pentagon to pollute our air and our drinking water and neither the states nor local communities would have any recourse," said Karen Wayland, legislative director of Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
Since 2002, the Bush administration has sought more flexibility in complying with environmental laws, claiming the restrictions are compromising training and readiness.
Congress initially rejected most of the Pentagon request after investigators found little to support those claims. However, it did temporarily waive a law protecting migratory birds and eased restrictions for land conservation and transfer of surplus property in 2002.
A year later, Congress amended the Endangered Species Act to require that less land be set aside for species habitat on military bases. The Marine Mammal Protection Act was also changed to lower the threshold on "harassment" of a marine mammal to allow the Navy greater use of sonar technology.
Source: Associated Press