Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I appreciate your leadership on this issue.
Like much of what is considered in this committee, what we are discussing today touches on multiple issues of importance to the Congress and the American people.
The Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative provisions proposed for the Defense Authorization act for Fiscal Year 2004 are about national defense, the preparedness of our troops, and protection of the environment.
The impact of environmental laws on military preparedness is a serious concern. We must ensure that our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines are able to train as they fight. We must ensure that our military personnel are ready to face any enemy, in any condition.
However, I do not agree that protection of our environment must be at odds with military readiness. While the Department of Defense has a unique mission; it has a strong record of environmental stewardship. I have confidence that as we learn more about the environment, the military will continue to make great strides in protecting it.
One of the criticisms I often hear about our environmental laws is that they create a culture of litigation. They do not meet their intended goal and that, too often, the court is making decisions about the environment rather than environmental professionals. It is my understanding that it is this fear that has prompted the Administration to make this proposal.
Some have suggested that the provisions we are considering today are a sweeping exemption from environmental laws. Others would argue that it is a codification of existing practices, narrowly prescribed to address unique military preparedness circumstances. I hope that this hearing will give us a better understanding of what the Administration is proposing and why it is necessary:
I know that the distinguished Senator from Virginia—a strong advocate for the environment and our nation’s military—has held a number of hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee on this subject both this year and last. In addition, this committee held a hearing on similar provisions that were proposed as part of the Fiscal Year 2003 Defense Authorization bill.
Clearly, we are all united in support of our armed forces. We want them to have the best training in the world. We also want to protect the environment. As I said, I do not think these are mutually exclusive.