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GROUPS ATTACK PENTAGON'S ENVIRONMENTAL EXEMPTION BID.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - Environmental organizations criticized on Wednesday a Defense Department effort to get exemptions in environmental laws for military training and testing as unwarranted and dangerous to public health and endangered species.

On the eve of congressional hearings on the Pentagon proposal, five representatives of environmental organizations and a former Air Force endangered-species specialist called the initiative a sweeping rollback of public health and environmental laws. Existing laws have not hampered military training or testing, they said.

``It is shocking to me and my colleagues that the Defense Department is trying to divest themselves from environmental laws,'' said Brock Evans, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. ``We are going to oppose it with everything we've got.''

The criticisms of the initiative were leveled during a teleconference featuring the Endangered Species Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, the National Environmental Trust and the National Wildlife Federation. Also speaking out against the proposal was Bruce Eilerts, a former endangered-species specialist at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

The organizations emphasized that the Bush administration already has the power to exempt the military from environmental laws for national security reasons and that the Pentagon has never felt compelled to request such exemptions.

A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department is not seeking blanket exemptions for all missions, just training and testing. Defense officials want flexibility in conducting missions for readiness, he said.

``We realize there are exemptions, but it's unrealistic to run to the president every time you want the Marines to hit the beach,'' said Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood.

The Pentagon wants exemptions from the environmental laws included in the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill. The Pentagon proposal will be presented to congressional armed forces committees today by Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

The Defense Department is seeking exemptions in the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

``The Pentagon's proposal is a dirty-air outrage,'' said John Walke, clean-air director of the National Resources Defense Council. ``There's no reason for the exemptions.''

In areas that do not meet federal government clean-air standards, such as the air district covering Edwards Air Force Base, military bases could be exempt from regulations requiring that steps be taken to bring air quality into compliance.

That, Walke said, unfairly pushes the regulatory burden onto businesses and the public.

Pentagon officials said the exemption would allow more flexibility for fielding and basing weapons and aircraft.

The Pentagon also plans to ask that the Endangered Species Act be amended to allow the Defense Department to use Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans to protect creatures rather than having to maintain critical habitat areas. That change would prevent the fragmentation of testing and training areas, military officials say.

The Pentagon wants the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act amended to clarify that munitions are not solid wastes. That would allow the continued use of ranges and would prevent that law from being used to shut them down.

The Defense Department could use the exemption to get out from under hefty environmental-cleanup costs, said Aimee Houghton, associate director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 13, 2003
Words:550
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