Military Seeks Exemptions on Harming Environmentby Jennifer Lee
New York Times, March 5, 2003
WASHINGTON, -- The Defense Department is asking for broad exemptions from environmental regulations in an expanded version of a bill that was defeated last year in the Senate.
The proposed legislation, introduced today by the White House, would give the military more discretion in activities that affect marine mammals and endangered species. In particular, the military is asking for exemptions from sections from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which officials said would give needed flexibility to sonar and underwater bombing exercises.
In contrast, the last version of the bill gave limited exemptions for small numbers of marine mammals in specified regions. Environment groups have criticized military sonar exercises over the last several years for beaching whales, in a few cases because of burst eardrums.
In a modification of last year's version, this bill also gives limited influence for the secretary of the Department of the Interior, who oversees wildlife protection, in reviewing military plans that would affect endangered species.
For years, the Defense Department has argued that overrestrictive environmental regulations protecting wildlife, air and water have interfered with military exercises. For example, more than 300 endangered plant and animal sites are found on military installations. The Marine base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., has limited training with off-road vehicles and the digging of trenches because of the presence of endangered wildlife.
The Pentagon also wants to override current regulations that govern the disposal of hazardous waste and the cleanup of contaminated sites. Specifically, the bill excludes explosives and munitions from the solid waste that is governed by environmental regulations if it is hazardous.
The Pentagon is cleaning up dozens of contaminated sites around the country. Environmental groups say that if the bill passes, the cost of the cleanups would fall largely to state governments. While the impact of government regulations used to be on a facility-by-facility basis, the Pentagon says that in recent years they have become widespread enough to compromise military readiness.
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