Pentagon renews request for environmental exemptions

The Defense Department is once again asking Congress to exempt military training ranges from environmental laws.

Pentagon officials announced Tuesday that they would ask lawmakers to exempt the military's 525 live-fire ranges from key provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act, 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Without granting the exemptions, the Defense Department will continue to face lawsuits over not complying with environmental rules that could force the military to curtail training activities. To date, the Environmental Protection Agency has declined to apply the laws to military training ranges.

Paul Mayberry, deputy undersecretary for readiness at Defense, told reporters the proposed changes were "all about readiness." He said the key to military success is its ability to train realistically at live-fire test ranges.

The changes are:

  • Granting test ranges a three-year extension from complying with the Clean Air Act requirement when new units or weapons systems are moved to a base.
  • Exempting military munitions at training ranges from CERCLA and RCRA laws, which some say classify munitions as solid waste and require expensive cleanup activities.
Raymond Dubois, deputy undersecretary for installations and environment at Defense, emphasized the changes are meant to be clarifications and should not be seen as broad exemptions to environmental laws. He says the changes would apply only to active training ranges, not closed sites, or nontraining installations. Cleanup activities at former military sites would continue uninterrupted, Dubois added.

The Defense Department has sought exemptions from the rules for the past two years, but Congress has declined to approve them. Lawmakers did grant Defense exemptions from five other environmental laws, including some portions of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, because they threatened military training.

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