STATEMENT OF ADMIRAL
VICE-CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
READINESS AND RANGE PRESERVATION INITIATIVE
JULY 9, 2002
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to share my views regarding how the Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative (RRPI) will further military readiness and environmental conservation. I appreciate your attention to this vital and timely topic, which is of great importance to our security and our environment today and into the future.
Our Navy provides combat-ready forces as powerful representatives of American sovereignty. In the weeks following September 11, naval forces were at the leading edge of our nation’s efforts against terrorism. Navy and Marine Corps carrier strike aircraft, in concert with US Air Force bombers and tankers, flew hundreds of miles beyond the sea, destroying the enemy's ability to fight. Sustained from the sea, U.S. Marines, Navy SEALS, Seabees, and Special Operations Forces worked with local allies to free Afghanistan from the Taliban Regime and Al Qaeda terrorist network. Today, naval forces are deployed to multiple theaters of operations in the Global War On Terrorism and our mission is far from over.
One thing we have learned -- readiness is paramount. Before this nation sends the precious resource of our youth into harm's way, we owe it to them to provide every measure of safety possible -- and that starts with realistic and comprehensive training. The extraordinary success achieved thus far in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM is a direct result of our commitment to train as we fight. We rely on the full use of our ranges and facilities to provide the combat-like experience that gives our forces a competitive advantage in war. But as we think about future operations, I am concerned about growing impediments to our ability to execute our highly successful training procedures.
Realistic, demanding training has proven key to survival in combat time and again. For example, data from World Wars I and II indicates that aviators who survive their first five combat engagements are likely to survive the war. Similarly, realistic training greatly increases U.S. combat effectiveness. For example, the ratio of enemy aircraft shot down by U.S. aircraft in Vietnam improved from less than 1-to-1 to 13-to-1 after the Navy established its Fighter Weapons School, popularly known as TOPGUN. More recent data shows aircrews who receive realistic training in the delivery of precision-guided munitions have twice the hit-to-miss ratio as those who do not receive such training.
Similar training demands also exist at sea. New ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines armed with deadly torpedoes and cruise missiles are proliferating widely. New technologies such as these could significantly threaten our fleet as we deploy around the world to assure access for joint forces, project power from the sea, and maintain open sea-lanes for trade.
To successfully defend against such threats, our Sailors must train realistically with the latest technology, including next-generation passive and active sonars. Unfortunately, training and testing on our ranges is increasingly constrained by encroachment that reduces the number of training days, detracts from training realism, causes temporary or permanent loss of range access, decreases scheduling flexibility, and drives up costs.
Encroachment issues have increased significantly over the past three decades. Training areas that were originally located in isolated areas are today surrounded by recreational areas, urban and suburban sprawl, and constrained by state and federal environmental laws and regulations. Additionally, successful stewardship programs have increased the number of protected species on our ranges, which has resulted in less training flexibility. Finally, cumbersome permitting processes negatively impact our ability to train.
BALANCING MILITARY READINESS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Military readiness and environmental conservation are both national imperatives to which our Navy is committed. They are, however, currently out of balance. Central to this imbalance is the “precautionary principle” (which is endorsed by some regulatory authorities), which holds that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, one must assume military training will adversely affect the environment. Although well intended, application of the "precautionary principle" results in trying to prove a negative, i.e. that training will cause no harm. Proving a negative is often difficult -- if not impossible -- and has led to the cancellation, curtailment, or adjustment of training to avoid even the possibility of disturbing endangered species and marine mammals. The loss of training that ensues detracts from combat readiness.
NAVY’S ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP
A desire to better balance readiness and environmental stewardship should not be taken as a lessening of our Navy's commitment to environmental protection.
Our environmental budget request for FY-2003 is more than $700 million. This funding supports environmental compliance and conservation, pollution prevention, environmental research, the development of new technologies, and environmental cleanup at Active and Reserve bases. Largely as a result of such stewardship, military lands present very favorable habitats for plants and wildlife, including many protected species.
CHALLENGES POSED BY EXISTING ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
The Department of Defense and the Navy are leaders in environmental stewardship. Nevertheless, there are several environmental initiatives that could, with modification, fulfill their intent of environmental protection while simultaneously allowing military forces to sustain readiness. The RRPI addresses these issues and will help establish one fundamental to our future combat readiness, that is restoring the balance between readiness and conservation. Specifically, I ask for your help with addressing ambiguities in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Litigation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has resulted in restrictions on training. The MBTA was enacted more than 80 years ago to regulate commercial duck hunting and to conserve migratory birds. Since a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2000, the MBTA has been viewed by some as a vehicle for regulating a wide range of activities that affect nearly every species of bird. Relying on this decision, third parties have filed suit challenging the unintentional taking (killing or harming) of migratory birds incidental to military training.
Adoption of RRPI would allow for the continuation of training activities vital to national security while requiring that the military services take practical steps to prevent injuries to birds in the course of training. This would return the MBTA to a responsible posture, as it was interpreted and applied for more than 80 years.
Endangered Species Act
Designating military training ranges as critical habitats under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can undermine the purpose for which they were set aside. Some federal courts have held that critical habitats are intended for species recovery. Under the ESA, controlling or action agencies are required to ensure that their actions do not destroy or adversely modify designated habitats. Hence designation as critical habitats could limit land uses that would diminish the value of that land for species recovery -- including military training.
DoD is already obligated under the Sikes Act to develop Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans (INRMP) for lands under military control. INRMPs address management of natural resources in the context of the missions for which the lands were placed under control of the military services. INRMPs are prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and state agencies, and these agencies recommend ways for DoD installations to better provide for species conservation and recovery.
The Navy has worked hard to ensure its training successfully coexists with the protection of endangered species. For example, Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) Coronado has been home to Navy frogmen since their inception in World War II. All of their basic skills from diving to hydrographic reconnaissance have been taught on its beaches and in the bays surrounding the base. To protect the environment, the Navy has spent about $675,000 per year since 1996 on conservation and management programs for the Western Snowy Plover and Least Tern, endangered birds that nest in that area. That effort has successfully increased the number of Least Tern nests by 600 percent and the number of Western Snowy Plover nests by almost 300 percent.
Ironically, this successful stewardship effort resulted in a loss of training area. Due to encroachment, including increased population of the Western Snowy Plover and Least Tern, NAB Coronado lost the use of an estimated 80 percent of its training beaches. In response, the Navy had to substantially alter training activities or conduct them elsewhere, disrupting training cycles, increasing costs, and adding to the time Sailors spend away from their families.
Adopting the RRPI would mitigate such situations in the future, by balancing training needs with the protection of threatened or endangered species. Changing the law to clearly establish that an approved INRMP plan provides sufficient species protection -- rather than designating more and more land as critical habitats -- would retain flexibility for the services in places where training needs and endangered species protection must coexist.
Marine Mammal Protection Act
Access for military training is an issue at sea as well as ashore. The Marine Mammal Protection Act has curtailed this access. Its definition of “harassment” has been a source of confusion since it was included in 1994 amendments to the statute. The statute defines “harassment” in terms of “annoyance” or the “potential to disturb” -- standards that are difficult to interpret. The definition of harassment and its application are pivotal because authorization must be obtained in advance of any activity that would constitute harassment.
Vagaries in the definition of harassment make it very difficult for Navy exercise planners and scientists to determine if a permit (technically known as an authorization) is required before commencing mission-essential training or testing. It also makes it difficult to judge how much mitigation is needed -- and therefore how much training realism must be lost --. to reduce the impact of any harassment or other type of taking to a negligible level. The Navy is not alone in its opinion that lack of clarity in the MMPA has led to restrictive and inconsistent interpretations of the definition of harassment. In testimony before Congress, the Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stated that, “NMFS has experienced difficulties with respect to implementation and interpretation of the current definition of harassment.”
Assuming a permit is required for training or testing, the application process requires at least four months -- and sometimes years -- to complete, and then the application is effective for only one year. Because Navy operations are tied to world events, exercise planning and testing is often done on short notice. This sometimes precludes the identification of training and testing platforms and locations far enough in advance to factor in the lengthy permit application process required by the MMPA.
Examples of this dilemma can be seen in Office of Naval Research (ONR) tests designed to measure sound in the water as it relates to improving the Navy’s capability to detect enemy submarines. Over the past several years, ONR has had to curtail or stop elements of various tests due to challenges linked to the MMPA’s definition of harassment and its lengthy permitting requirements. In May 2000, for example, disagreement with the regulatory community ensued over ONR’s analysis of the impact of its testing on marine mammals. This led ONR in a subsequent test to spend $800,000 for mitigation measures, to avoid even the possibility of disturbing marine mammals.
More recently, key training for the USS CARL VINSON Battle Group was cancelled because a permit could not be obtained in an expeditious manner to “potentially disturb” seals when target drones flew over them. This resulted in the deployment of three ships of the Battle Group to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM without the benefit of anti-ship cruise missile defensive training.
Amending the definition of “harassment,” as proposed by the Administration, would eliminate application of the MMPA to benign naval activities that cause only minor changes in marine mammal behavior, eliminate the need for mitigation that undermines critical training involving only benign effects, and increase training flexibility by allowing greater use of acoustical sources. The Navy would still be required under the proposed definition of "harassment" to apply for permits and adopt mitigation for activities having a significant biological effect on marine mammals.
We face an enemy today who is determined to destroy our way of life. The President has told us to "be ready" to face this threat. To fulfill this directive, we must conduct comprehensive combat training -- arming our Sailors with experience. This requires full use of our ranges and operating areas. In return, the Navy has proven itself an able steward of our natural resources, and we will continue to promote the health of lands entrusted to our care.
I thank the Committee for your continued strong support of our Navy and I ask for your full consideration of passing the RRPI legislation. It will help the services sustain military readiness in this time of war and into the future, when we will face a growing array of deadly threats. It will also support our on-going efforts at environmental conservation. Achieving the best balance of these national imperatives is in the interests of all Americans, and your Navy is committed to achieving that goal.