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Defense environmental programs reaching out to communities.

Suburban sprawl around military training areas shows no signs of slowing and this growth is fueling tensions between base commanders and communities around the United States.

The Defense Department, meanwhile, has been criticized for its attempts in recent years to obtain waivers that would allow military training exercises in areas protected under environmental laws. Although the Pentagon plans to stand firm by its policy to make "military readiness" its top priority, it is also reaching out to communities in an effort to mend fences.

A case in point is a new $20 million program designed to build "partnerships" between military installations and localities.

Overall, the Pentagon's fiscal year 2005 budget request includes $3.8 billion for environmental programs including: $1.3 billion for cleanup, $300 million for base closure-related cleanup, $1.6 billion for compliance, about $100 million for pollution prevention and $100 million for conservation.

The Pentagon is working to strike a balance between "how to support realistic training requirements and still remain good neighbors within the communities we are part of," said Alex Albert Beehler, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health.

He spoke at the 2004 National Defense Industrial Association's environmental and energy symposium, in San Diego.

As the demands for military training escalate, the Defense Department also faces increasing competition for air, land, and water resources needed to support training at installations, ranges amt test sites, said Beehler. "On a daily basis our installation and range managers are confronted with various encroachment pressures.

"Such pressures include incompatible development outside our fence-lines that result in changes to military flight paths for approaches and take-offs--results that lead to unrealistic and negative training."

What Beehler termed "encroachment pressures" also include threatened and endangered species on Defense Department lands. "Nearly every major military installation and range has one or more endangered species, and for many species, these Defense Department lands are often the last refuge."

The Pentagon and the military services have instituted several policies in recent years to deal with the environmental tug-of-war. "The military services are preparing detailed management plans for ranges and operating areas," said Beehler.

The $20 million outreach program seeks to "develop new policies, partnerships and tools to assist communities ... in executing compatible land use partnerships around our test and training ranges, and installations," he said. The goal is "to enhance conservation and compatible land use on a local and regional basis."

Beehler said he is confident the Defense Department can do a better job working with other agencies and the communities affected by environmental policies. He noted that Defense Department officials have testified on these issues before congressional committees and have met with national organizations representing the states. The Pentagon also has sponsored site visits by representatives of nongovernmental environmental organizations to range complexes.

Another of Beehler's responsibilities--worker safety--will get more attention in the coming years, he said. "While readiness is the military's true bottom line, we must also remember that historically, the U.S. military has lost more lives to disease and non-battle injuries than as a direct result of combat."

The defense secretary has asked Beehler's office to help reduce mishaps and accident rates by 50 percent during the next two years.
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Title Annotation:Up Front
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:534
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