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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

News Follow-up

Air Date: Week of March 28, 2003

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New developments in stories we’ve been following.

Transcript

[MUSIC: News Followup Theme]

CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately.

As U.S. troops fight in Iraq, the Pentagon is seeking exemptions at home from a variety of major environmental laws. The House Arms Services Committee recently heard testimony from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, who say environmental laws restrict military training. For example, Paul Mayberry, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Readiness, says meeting the requirements for the Endangered Species Act gets in the way of Marine Corps training. He points to a base in California that had to be altered to preserve critical habitat for the tidewater fish called the Gobi.

MAYBERRY: Marines storm the beach at Camp Pendleton. They then have to stop this rather complex integrated exercise that includes aircraft and artillery and maneuver units from the sea. They literally get on buses to move to staging areas so that the amphibious fight can continue.

CURWOOD: Along with the Endangered Species Act, the Defense Department is seeking exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and provisions in the Superfund program. Among its proposals, the Pentagon is asking to redefine solid waste to exclude explosives, munitions, and other materials.

Alyse Campaigne of the Natural Resources Defense Council says this provision could put citizens at risk.

CAMPAIGNE: A lot of these explosives and munitions, when left on the ground, have contaminated drinking water sources including sole-source aquifers in some parts of the country. This would let the Department of Defense leave these things lying on the ground, keep them from cleaning it up.

CURWOOD: Meanwhile, the Defense Department also announced recently that depleted uranium, DU, is the weapon of choice when battling Iraqi armor units. DU is enriched natural uranium, and it's almost twice as dense as lead, which makes it an ideal penetrating weapon. The DOD says that depleted uranium is now used both as armor to protect the US Abrams tanks, and as coating for the tips of projectiles that can easily slice through Iraqi tanks.

Colonel James Naughton is Director for Munitions, Chemical, and Biological Defense at the U.S. Army Material Command.

NAUGHTON: It gives us a distinct war-fighting advantage over somebody that chooses to use the next-best material, which is tungsten. And so using it protects our soldiers and increases the likelihood of us having tactical success, which in turn gives us a decisive advantage on the battlefield.

CURWOOD: A United Nations study of Bosnia and Herzegovina recently found low levels of depleted uranium in drinking water and suspended dust particles from DU weapons used during the war there in the mid-1990s.

Critics warn that depleted uranium may cause cancer, but UN researchers say their findings show DU munitions do not present immediate radioactive or toxic risks for the environment or human health.

And that's this week's followup in the news from Living on Earth.

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