Pentagon Chiefs Told to Prepare
by John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's No. 2 official has ordered military service chiefs to provide examples in which President Bush could cite national security and exempt defense facilities from certain environmental laws.
The move follows the Bush administration's requests, made in the name of military training, that Congress ease laws governing endangered species, marine mammals, and air and water quality at defense facilities.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suggested that the Pentagon should consider reversing its "past restraint" against having the president invoke national security exemption provisions available in some environmental laws. He said those exemptions have never been used. In a March 7 memo to the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Wolfowitz said, "It is time for us to give greater consideration to requesting such exemptions" in cases where the laws threaten military training and readiness.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group that made the memo available to reporters, said pushing for the exemptions would lessen public scrutiny. "If the president invokes it, there's no way to challenge it or subject it to a review," Ruch said.
Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the memo is authentic but noted that for the department "to use those exemptions, it's got to be a dire, critical situation."
Congress rejected most of the military's requests for changes in environmental laws last year.
Legislators approved a temporary waiver in a law protecting migratory birds and eased requirements for land conservation and transfer of surplus property.
Pentagon officials still want Congress to grant a three-year grace period from air pollution laws affecting new weaponry and less restrictive requirements for protecting endangered species and for preventing "harassment" of marine mammals.
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