DOD Reduces Environmental Responsibilities

* The Department of Defense (DOD) recently announced that they will reduce their environmental cleanup responsibilities at their facilities worldwide. DOD will retain only responsibility for environmental activities directly necessary to "sustain the national defense mission."

This new environmental directive replaces a directive issued during the Clinton administration that required DOD to ensure that environmental factors are integrated into decision-making. These factors include protecting, preserving and restoring the environment, and reducing risk to human health and the environment from DOD activities. This directive included pollution prevention and minimizing adverse environmental impacts. The directive required DOD to comply with applicable federal statutes and regulations, Executive Orders, international agreements and U.S. policies for environment, safety, and occupational health, among other things.

However, the new directive states only that DOD must abide by requirements that conform to applicable law or DOD policy. Activists are concerned that this language will compromise human health and the environment at DOD installations, as it allows DOD to be responsible only to itself for environmental oversight. Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said, "[DOD] is transforming itself into an entity concerned only about its own logistics and facility management, and the public be damned. Under this new policy, who will protect America's waters, air and soil from [DOD]?"

The new directive cuts DOD's environmental responsibilities based on economic factors. The directive states that DOD will, "evaluate all activities ... and make prudent investments in initiatives that support mission accomplishment, enhance readiness, reduce future funding needs, [and] prevent pollution...."

DOD maintains four major installations in New Mexico, including Kirtland, Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, as well as national guard units. DOD also maintains several contracts with the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, as well as Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. Activists are concerned that the directive will allow DOD to abandon decades of contamination at White Sands Missile Range, Fort Wingate and the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center in Socorro.

Amy Williams, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "New Mexico is a highly militarized state, and inevitably, when DOD decides to reduce its accountability to human health and the environment, the people of New Mexico are negatively effected."

Activists are also concerned that this directive will set a precedent for the Department of Energy (DOE) facilities statewide, which include Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). They cite the draft request for proposals for LANL's management contract, which was released recently. The request requires that a separate contractor be selected to perform cleanup activities at LANL. Activists believe that this allows the University of California, LANL's managing contractor, to avoid responsibility for 60 years of waste and contamination at LANL.

Williams said, "DOE has already relieved UC of its responsibility for 60 years of environmental degradation at LANL. Given DOD's recent directive, we are concerned that DOE may follow suit, abandoning dangerous contamination in the interest of national security."

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