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PENTAGON WANTS PASS FROM LAWS ON ENVIRONMENT.

Byline: Lisa Friedman Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - State and federal authorities would be helpless to prevent more perchlorate contamination in Southern California drinking water if Congress grants the Pentagon broad new environmental exemptions, a coalition of public water agencies warned Wednesday.

The Department of Defense, arguing that its ability to train soldiers for war is at stake, seeks leeway from the Clean Air Act and from hazardous waste laws at thousands of firing and bombing ranges nationwide.

But in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittees on the environment and toxic substances, Ron Gastelum, president of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and other water regulators called the proposal too broad.

``We believe our armed forces should be able to conduct weapons training, yet still clean up hazardous waste on its ranges that threaten sources of drinking water,'' Gastelum said.

Southern California congressional Democrats also slammed the proposal, saying the Pentagon already has a poor record of cleaning up contamination.

Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, noted that at least 300 groundwater wells in Southern California have been shut down due to perchlorate contamination. The legislation, she said, could make it more difficult for local governments to obtain reimbursements either from the Pentagon or local defense contractors.

``The cost of these exemptions could be overwhelming, both economically and to public health,'' she said.

But most Republicans on the committee, which includes GOP Reps. Christopher Cox of Huntington Beach and Darrell Issa of Vista, said the military must not allow burdensome regulations to impair its ability to train soldiers in realistic conditions.

``We can't train our troops in a video arcade. They need dirt under their boots,'' said Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas.

The Pentagon wants to change the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act so that the term ``solid waste'' no longer includes explosives, munitions or residue from explosions. It also wants explosives and munitions to be exempted from the definition of ``releases'' in the Superfund Law.

Finally, it wants Congress to change the Clean Air Act so any extra pollution from training exercises wouldn't count for three years in states' plans for meeting federal air quality requirements.

Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731

lisa.friedman(at)langnews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 22, 2004
Words:365
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