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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Waiving Laws for Military Readiness

Air Date: Week of

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As the U.S. moves closer to a new war with Iraq, Congress is deciding whether preparing troops for battle is compatible with environmental protection. Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports from Washington.


CURWOOD: With military action continuing in Afghanistan and looming on the horizon with Iraq, lawmakers in Washington are growing increasingly anxious about military preparedness. As Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports, the environment has become a focal point in their debate.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Bush Administration says its troops are losing training time and space to environmental laws, laws which limit everything, it says, from air space and live fire drops, to amphibious exercises, and the disposal of military wastes. The Department of Defense wants exemptions from a number of major laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and laws governing hazardous wastes. Paul Mayberry is DOD’s Deputy Undersecretary for Readiness.

MAYBERRY: Our military readiness activities are being increasingly constrained by the cumulative effects of rigid compliance with and overly broad interpretation of a wide array of environmental statutes and regulations.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Some in Congress agree. They say, they’ve seen environmental laws force military bases to sharply curtail training and stop some activities altogether. But other lawmakers are hesitant to grant DOD a blanket exemption from such a sweeping array of environmental protections. Critics point out the Secretary of Defense already has the authority to seek exemptions from these laws on a case-by-case basis, an authority they say that’s never been used. They say, birds, whales and groundwater have all been damaged by military activity, and that if the laws are waived, the damage will be worse.

The military, they argue, has been looking for a way out of complying with environmental laws for years, and, they say, it’s simply using the war on terrorism as justification. Lawmakers in the House have granted the DOD exemption from two of the laws it requested, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Senate, however, has refused to grant any exemptions. The two chambers are now in closed-door negotiations to reach a compromise on the final bill. The results will be a test of Washington’s priorities and could help set the stage for future debates over whether national security is compatible with environmental protection.

For Living on Earth, I’m Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, in Washington.



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