CQ TODAY – ENVIRONMENTMay 4, 2005 – 8:40 p.m.
Pentagon, Democrats Could Clash Over Proposed Environmental Exemptions
By Rebecca Adams, CQ Staff
The Defense Department is asking Congress to exempt it from some environmental laws because officials say they constrain the agency’s ability to protect national security. The proposal sets up a potentially bitter fight between the Pentagon and Democrats who say that the exemptions from toxic waste and clean air rules would threaten the nation’s environment.
The Senate Armed Services Committee may approve legislation next week that would exempt the Pentagon from environmental requirements, and the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to act on a similar measure on May 18. The Pentagon has not gotten any Clean Air Act exemptions before, according to Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, although though they have achieved some exemptions from parts of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“If the Pentagon request became law, people living near military bases might breathe dirtier air,” O’Donnell said. “The proposed exemption could mean more asthma attacks, premature deaths, and other health problems from pollution.”
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, opposes the Pentagon’s latest request “because it would be harmful for human health and the environment and it is not needed for the national defense,” said spokeswoman Tara Andringa.
Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the provision should be approved by his committee before the Armed Services Committee sends it to the full House for consideration. Dingell called the policies a “most curious set of misguided proposals” and argued that “there is no evidence or example where these laws have ever adversely affected military readiness.”
The Pentagon has already won the ability to circumvent some environmental rules. Lawmakers exempted the department from parts of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act in previous years. That history leads environmental lobbyists to suspect that the requests are part of a broader campaign by the Pentagon to slowly chip away at environmental protections.
Pentagon officials say that Clean Air Act rules inappropriately prevent them from redeploying military aircraft that emit pollution near developed areas where pollution is already a problem. The Pentagon wants the EPA to ignore anti-pollution standards for three years when jets used in training exercises are based in areas near polluted cities. One example could be the naval base near Norfolk, Va., where the military may be considering redeploying aircraft but are stymied by the rules governing pollution caused by the jets.
The provision also would let the federal government move any civil and criminal cases against it under the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act to federal courts rather than state courts. “The federal courts are better situated to strike a proper balance between competing local and national interests,” read a section-by-section analysis of the bill.
Toxic waste regulations also would be abbreviated if the Pentagon has its way. The proposal would essentially allow the military to avoid cleaning up toxic and hazardous waste sites from bombs and other munitions on bases until the pollution drifts into the surrounding community. A number of state officials oppose this provision because it would strip them of the ability to force a cleanup.
The proposal also would essentially limit the Pentagon’s responsibility for cleaning up contamination later found on closed military sites if there are no funds for cleanup.
Pentagon officials say that their request is limited and important for national security. “We’re not trying to get blanket exemption but need some flexibility that will allow us to proceed,” said spokesman Glenn Flood.
Source: CQ Today Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill. © 2005 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved