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Pentagon Seeks Looser Pollution Controls

a dirty business
 by Pamela Hess
 Washington (UPI) Apr 06, 2004
The Pentagon Wednesday asked Congress for relief from environmental laws like the Clean Air Act that it says threaten all 525 military training ranges in the United States.

The Defense Department is engaged in a legal battle with various citizens groups and an Indian tribe over one range in particular -- Fort Richardson's Eagle River Flats in Alaska, where the groups are trying to shut down the Army's use of live ammunition on training ranges.

The Pentagon fears if the lawsuit is successful, the judges' findings could be deemed to apply to every other training range it runs. A similar lawsuit as well as a major lobbying campaign and years of protests shut down the naval training range in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

"We might be able to work around a shutdown of Eagle Flats but we can not live with widespread shutdown of training ranges," said Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Readiness Paul Mayberry.

The groups allege violations by the Army of the federal Clean Water Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Federal Facility Agreement for Fort Richardson, and the Solid Waste Disposal Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency placed Fort Richardson on the National Priorities (Superfund) List of polluted sites in 1994.

The Pentagon wants Congress to give it legislative cover from such a court decision. It delivered a package of legislation changes to Capitol Hill Wednesday.

"We don't feel we can responsibly wait for a train wreck" before getting relief from the laws, said Ray DuBois, the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

Military training "is under siege. We want you, Congress, to clarify this is not the way" environmental laws were meant to be used, said Pentagon Deputy General Counsel Benedict Cohen.

Mayberry said the Fort Richardson lawsuit alleges Army use of Howitzer canon live ammunition is a Superfund violation and sets into motion mandatory cleanup activities that would prevent further use of the range and possibly others like it.

However, citizen lawsuits can not compel Superfund cleanups, according to information filed with the U.S. Senate. They can only be legally compelled by the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the president of the United States.

Eagle Flats is a wetlands area on Cook Inlet near Anchorage, Alaska.

This is the third time the Pentagon has pressed Congress without success for these exemptions from air and ground pollution requirements. In this version, however, it has written the language to be narrower to make it clear the exemptions only apply to pollution from weapons used during operational training and testing of new weapons.

The exemptions would not affect the Safe Drinking Water Act, which empowers state and federal regulators to protect drinking water even on an operational range, according to the Pentagon.

None of the exemptions would apply to bases that have been closed or are being transferred to other entities. The Defense Department would still be required to clean up those bases to federal standards.

However, the Pentagon is seeking permission to violate Clean Air Act standards for three years before having to offset the emissions or pay a fine.

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