Environmental and Public Works Committee
Department of Defense Hearing on Waivers of Environmental Law
Statement and Questions by Senator Ron Wyden
July 9, 2002
Mr. Chairman, this committee has a bipartisan tradition that the Federal government should be covered by the same environmental laws the private sector has to live under. There shouldn't be a double standard.
When this committee last considered Superfund reform, I was prepared to offer an amendment along with Senator Voinovich to eliminate the double standard in the Superfund law of how it treats private sector Superfund sites and Federal facilities. This markup was suspended before our bipartisan amendment came up for a vote.
The Wyden/Voinovich amendment was the same amendment that Senator Allard and I offered the year before and that was approved during the Committee markup of S. 8.
This issue is about the health and safety of our citizens. If you live downwind or downstream from a contaminated site, it doesn't matter whether the owner of the site is a private company or the Federal government. If your health is in jeopardy, you need the same level of protection no matter who the owner is. You need equal protection under the law.
What the Department of Defense's proposal would do is create a double standard -- the EPA would have one set of rules for the private sector and another for Federal agencies.
This year, we've all been given a vivid reminder of the role the Department of Defense has in protecting our country. I appreciate the work of our military and of the men and women who are part of it. This hearing is not in any way about whether or not we support our armed forces. That's a given. It's about balancing our national security with our environmental security.
I understand that the DOD's believes some of our environmental laws are endangering military readiness by limiting certain types of training. However, the GAO stated in a report published last month, that the military services had not been able to demonstrate any reduction in readiness due to laws such as the Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
My concern about what some are seeking, is that it could invalidate hundreds of complex negotiations worked out between the citizens of this country and state and federal agencies. The Department of Defense's proposal would permanently exempt DOD from having to work with EPA and state agencies on the clean-up of sites such as the Umatilla Chemical Depot in my home state of Oregon.
That chemical weapons depot contains 11% of the nation's deadly nerve agents such as sarin and mustard gas. As you can imagine, the communities in this area have asked for, and rightly received, good faith assurances that every possible precaution would be taken to guarantee their safety. In fact, the governor has spent most of the last eight years negotiating a dependable emergency preparedness plan with the community, as noted in the Seattle Times of June 19:
Kitzhaber and Oregon regulators are right to demand high standards for the disposal of the chemical weapons. Their efforts no doubt have made the process safer for the public.
If these proposed amendments became law, DOD would have the power to come in and wave the agreements and procedures that have been reached in Um atilla County. That doesn't sound to me like the participatory democracy the Founders had in mind.
Our citizens who live in the shadow polluting at contaminated Federal facilities should not have to wait years or decades to obtain the health and environmental protections our laws are supposed to provide. I urge all members of the Committee to support the bipartisan tradition on this Committee to provide citizens who live downwind or downstream from Federal facilities equal protection under our environmental laws.