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Uncle Sam's war against the environment.

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
May 14, 2002


Once again the Defense Department is circulating draft legislation that would exempt the military from compliance with federal laws that protect water quality, air quality, endangered species, and wildlife habitat. Not content with a status quo of reckless inaction, the Bush administration is hell bent on undoing environmental progress made in the last twelve years.

Citing national security, the Pentagon wants Congress to exempt activities conducted at sea, on the nation's military bases, and facilities such as bombing ranges from a wide range of environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and the federal Superfund program.

In a clear case of overkill, nearly all of these federal environmental regulations already contain exemptions for the Defense Department during national emergencies and times of war. Even when the law does apply to military operations regulators have no way to enforce compliance. The federal government will not fine itself, shut down it's own polluting operations, or cry foul when habitats are destroyed.

Yet, here we are in 2002 with the Pentagon whining about how it can't do its job because environmental regulations are getting in the way of training exercises. Some retired generals are saying without easing environmental regulations, American soldiers will be unable to do their job. Which is hardly an honest assessment, by any stretch of the imagination.

The regulations the Pentagon is trying to exempt the military from were in place during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, as well as before and during American involvement in Granada, Panama, and Kosovo. But as history has played out we can see that the environmental stewardship forced on men in uniform did nothing to impede their military success.

The Marines at Camp Pendleton have been doing an exemplary job of protecting native habitat, while continuing to train soldiers in the arts of war. More striking is how the Marines have been better stewards of the environment than their civilian counterparts. Let's face it folks, without Camp Pendleton both sides of Interstate 5 between Oceanside and San Clemente, would be one long strip mall . Because of regulations, the military base is an oasis of habitat disappearing elsewhere in the county.

For those of you that think the call to ease environmental regulations for the military is a response to the bombings of September 11th, and Dubya's war on terrorism, think again. On May 24th 2001, the House Committee on Government Reform, under the leadership of Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind, asked Presidente Bush to "initiate government reforms" regarding environmental laws "threatening military readiness."

Faced with the task of cleaning up contamination from decaying ordinances, fuels, solvents, and other pollutants left over from the wars of the 20th century, the Defense Department is seeking a less than democratic playing field in which to dump their spoils of war while using the World Trade Center as political cover.

What I don't understand is how the Pentagon doesn't see how allowing the military to play by a different set of rules than other Americans undermines the very fabric of what America is suppose to stand for. If we are not all playing by the same rules, the concepts of equality and justice become nothing more than blurry myths wrapped up in nationalistic rhetoric.

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