Opening Statement of United States Senator Bob Smith
“The Range Readiness and Preservation Initiative of the Department of Defense”
Full Committee Hearing
United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Thank you Mr. Chairman for working with me and honoring the request of this side for this very important hearing. I want to welcome some of our most senior military leaders to today’s hearing. Welcome to Admiral Fallon, General Keane, General Foglesong and General Williams. I understand that today is the first time all four services have been represented at the Joint Vice Chiefs of Staff level in any hearing outside the Armed Services Committee—we are honored to have you here to testify. The purpose of this hearing is to consider DoD’s Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative. Mr. Chairman, we are at war – and thus far we have been blessed to have so few casualties. A primary reason for that is the tremendous training that our soldiers get before going into battle. Training saves lives. Unfortunately, there are obstacles to this training that we must address. The Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative balances two of our country’s priorities: national defense and protecting the environment. It is up to us in Congress to clarify how to appropriately balance these goals of national defense and environmental protection.
It is important to note that this legislative proposal does not contain exemptions or sweeping rollbacks of environmental law. The proposal instead keeps DoD subject to environmental laws and tries to clarify how DoD can achieve its day-to-day readiness mission in balance with environmental stewardship.
Let me talk a little about the specifics of the proposal. First, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In March of this year, a D.C. Circuit court held that military training should be halted if it could result in the incidental death or injury of a single migratory bird. There are numerous migratory birds. While this decision directly affects live fire training exercises on an island in the South Pacific, this decision could be used to halt training at every military base in our nation. That cannot occur. The Pentagon is asking to restore the interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that has existed for eighty three years prior to the recent court ruling. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies to hunting of migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was never intended to apply to unintended, incidental harm to migratory birds.
Our military is also requesting clarification that there is no need to designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act at military installations which have an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan. These plans are required by another environmental law, the Sikes Act, which only applies to the military. The Sikes Act requires the military to holistically address conservation of a military base’s natural resources. This requested clarification is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and confirms existing policy of the last two Administrations.
DoD is also requesting clarification that munitions fired on operational ranges are not solid waste or releases requiring cleanup under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as well as the Superfund law. Most of what DoD is requesting simply codifies an Environmental Protection Agency regulation called the Military Munitions Rule. Some litigants are claiming that after a round is fired on an operational range, any material that is left on the range should be immediately subject to cleanup under these laws. There is no way to cleanup the range without halting training activities. What makes sense is to apply these remediation laws when the range is no longer operational. And for those unusual circumstances when an actual endangerment exists on an operational range or there are significant off-site environmental consequences, then existing authorities under Superfund and the Safe Drinking Water Act can be used.
The military is also requesting clarification on the “general conformity” requirement under the Clean Air Act, which is only applicable to federal agencies. They are requesting a 3-year compliance window to ensure that proposed military readiness activities conform to the applicable State Implementation Plan. This flexibility will facilitate new Base Realignments and Closings in 2005, which will substantially reduce DoD’s aggregate air emissions.
And finally, the DoD is requesting clarification on the vague definition of harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which currently includes imprecise terms such as annoyance or the potential to disturb. This clarification is consistent with the recommendation of the National Research Council, and was developed by the Departments of Commerce, Interior, and Defense under the last two Administrations.
Mr. Chairman, these are all reasonable and responsible legislative proposals that recognize both the need to properly train soldiers and the responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. Thank you again for holding this hearing today.