- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

The Defense Department is asking for exemptions from environmental laws they say are burdensome and restrict military training that leaves troops unprepared for battle.
"National security concerns mandate that the military be able to train effectively, test systems adequately and realistically before fielding, and conduct military operations," said the proposal to Congress, which begins hearings today.
Extensions of environmental laws have significantly restricted the military's use of testing ranges, as well as live-fire testing and training, according to the proposal.
The Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative would give the military immunity to the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Superfund law. The Pentagon, instead, would operate under the Sikes Act, which requires the military to integrate natural-resources protections with actions and training.
Environmental groups oppose the exemptions, saying the government is using an impending war with Iraq as an excuse to roll back the rules.
Brock Evans, spokesman for the Endangered Species Coalition, called the potential exemptions a "shocking occurrence" during a teleconference yesterday with several other environmental groups.
"This is not about military readiness, we all want the troops to have training, but there are alternatives to exempting environmental laws," Mr. Evans said.
Environmentalists say the military has found solutions to pursue training in compliance with laws on a case-by-case basis.
John Kostyack with the National Wildlife Federation said the Endangered Species Act is the "crown jewel" of American environmental laws and a military rollback would be an "incredible loss for species protections."
"Defense Department land managers have routinely found a way to work things out where training goes forward and species are protected," Mr. Kostyack said.
However, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said it is the environmental groups who are using the laws to block military training.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a lawsuit to list the gnatcatcher as an endangered bird, which would require Camp Pendleton in California to designate 57 percent of its property as "critical habitat" and cut off training and readiness exercises, according to a congressional memo.
Additionally, a Marine Corps study found that because of other endangered species on the base, elements of a Marine expeditionary unit performed only 69 percent of established standards for non-firing field training.
"Because of the extreme agenda of some environmental groups, our men and women in uniform are facing a growing crisis in training and readiness," Mr. Inhofe said.
In California's Mojave Desert, Marines can only train during the daytime so as not to trample endangered tortoises. Live or simulated fire is off-limits and all vehicles are restricted to roads.
Hawaii's Makua Military Reservation was shut down in 1998 in response to lawsuits seeking to protect a tree snail, and Navy SEAL training on Coronado Island in California is restricted because of the snowy plover bird.
Michael Jasny with the Natural Resources Defense Council said the environmental consequences of not operating under the law are "severe and complicated."
"To ram this legislation through Congress at this time and this way is cynical, even by the standards of this administration, and shows no concern form the public's health and the environment," Mr. Jasny said.

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