Senator Joe Lieberman
Statement to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Considering Department of Defense's Proposal to Amend Environmental Laws
Tuesday, July 9, 2002
I want to begin by thanking the Chairman for his leadership, as always. Today we consider attempts to exempt the Department of Defense from or otherwise weaken DOD's compliance with a number of major federal environmental laws. These include: (1) the Superfund law and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, both of which govern toxic waste management and cleanup; (2) the Wilderness Act of 1964, which concerns Bureau of Land Management control of public land, (3) the Endangered Species Act, and (4) the Clean Air Act.
As a member of the Defense Authorization Conference Committee and a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, I feel I have a particular responsibility to make my position on this matter known, and to make it clear.
I have two major objections to the blanket exemptions to environmental law that some are seeking to push through conference.
The first objection is procedural.
The changes being contemplated are substantial. They will have far-reaching effects on environmental and public health law. Therefore, they demand thorough scrutiny in the Congressional committee that is responsible for such consideration. In large part, that is this Committee, Environment and Public Works.
When profound changes to our environmental protection regime are at stake, we can't go through the legislative backdoor or side door. We owe it to the American people to go through the front door-and that means full consideration in this committee.
I am grateful for today's hearing, but this should be only the beginning. It would be an inappropriate usurpation of our oversight responsibilities, not to mention a waste of this committee's considerable expertise, for the Defense Conference to rush the changes through.
My second objection is substantive.
There may very well be a need to carve out some DOD exceptions and exemptions to the environmental laws I've mentioned. Especially in the midst of the war on terrorism, we must be prepared to adjust any and all regulations that might interfere with our military preparedness.
But we must not jump to the conclusion that these critical laws need to be busted up with a sledgehammer rather than carefully altered with a scalpel. That is what we would, in effect, be doing by allowing this matter to jump over the consideration of this committee right into the Defense Authorization Conference Committee.
At the present time, we have no reason to believe that compliance with these laws would in any way hinder the readiness of our armed forces. In fact, as the General Accounting Office reported last month, the military's own readiness data does not show that environmental laws have significantly affected training readiness. The GAO also found that DOD's readiness reports show high levels of training readiness for most units. And in those few instances of when units reported lower training readiness, DOD officials rarely cited lack of adequate training ranges, areas or airspace as the cause.
So the available evidence shows that strong environmental defense and strong national defense can coexist and are, in fact, currently coexisting. Let's not misrepresent the facts and be forced into a false choice that we will later regret.
The fact is, what we know about this problem so far suggests that it's not the fault of the environmental laws where and when DOD is having compliance or readiness problems; in most cases, the bulk of the burden-and the bulk of the blame-appears to fall on DOD's shoulders. That may or may not be the case when we finish studying this issue-as I said, there must be room for flexibility within these environmental laws-but it underlines the importance of thoughtful consideration, not a mad rush to undercut these critical protections, one by one.
I am eager to consider such changes and, if and where appropriate, give DOD additional flexibility under the rules. But when we do, we'll do our editing with a slim red marker-not, as some would have it, with a match.