SIX EXEMPTIONS SOUGHT ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS SAID TO INHIBIT TRAINING.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - The Pentagon is seeking exemptions in six landmark environmental laws that the Defense Department say inhibits training and testing missions.
Pentagon officials say they want a common sense approach to the laws - which include the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and laws protecting migratory birds, whales and seals - that will allow them flexibility to do their missions.
``We are eyeing the new Congress with our proposal and we hope it will be received in a positive way,'' said Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood. ``We are asking this for our readiness missions. This not something we are asking for across the board. It's not for every base.''
Environmental and conservation groups counter that the military already has the flexibility to do its job and that there is no evidence to suggest that protecting the environment is hurting preparedness.
An example of that flexibility is the fact that the secretary of defense has authority to exempt any activity from the Endangered Species Act, officials said.
``There is a bigger push by the Bush administration to dismantle environmental laws,'' said Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which in the past has sued government agencies to stiffen enforcement of environmental laws. ``They want to get their foot in the door. If we exempt the Defense Department, why not exempt other agencies?''
The Pentagon made a similar push in Congress last year and was largely defeated, Patterson said. Allowing that the Senate membership has changed in favor of the Republican party, Patterson believes the proposals will be fought again.
``There are members of the president's own party who think this is not the way to go,'' Patterson said. ``This is an over-the-top proposal, and it will be rejected.''
In a memo to the secretaries and chiefs of staff of the various military service branches, a Pentagon readiness oversight council laid out its strategy for approaching Congress to get changes in the laws.
Five of the six proposed changes possibly could affect Edwards Air Force Base, and others could affect other Southern California installations such as Naval Base Ventura County and ocean testing ranges.
Edwards spokesman Gary Hatch said the base will not comment on pending legislation. Naval officials knowledgeable about the situation could not be reached for comment.
Among the changes sought by the Pentagon memo are permission for activities that cause ``insignificant behavioral changes'' on whales and seals, which under the Marine Mammal Protection Act military officials fear could be labeled illegal ``harassment'' of wildlife.
For example, U.S. Navy officials last year had to get permission to launch unarmed target missiles off the California coast from San Nicolas Island, where seals gather on the shore. The Navy got permission only after the National Marine Fisheries Service answered objections to its conclusion that noise making a seal blink its eyes, turn its head or crawl a few feet along a beach did not mean it was harassed.
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 ranges to be continued to be used and would prevent that law from being used to shut them down.
In addition, after gaining a limited-duration exemption under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for military training and testing in the 2002 Defense Authorization Bill, the Pentagon will seek a full exemption for those activities.
The memo states if the exemption is granted the Defense Department would continue to study the impacts of those missions on migratory birds and would continue to take protective action.
The Pentagon is seeking exclude live-fire training and testing from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. The law would still apply to closed ranges and areas away from ranges.
The Pentagon is seeking amend the Clean Air Act to allow the military five years to bring its emissions into compliance with state regulations. That will allow the Defense Department more flexibility for fielding and basing weapons and aircraft.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 15, 2003|
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