Military manoeuvre

Published: Wednesday 30 April 2003

the us' pre-emptive onslaught against Iraq may not have won it many friends, but the Pentagon continues to enjoy the support of a strange bedfellow: the United States Environmental Protection Agency (usepa). In what is seen as fresh evidence of the watchdog body's whole-hearted cooperation, the epa has approved of a legislation sought by the Pentagon to exempt it from a broad range of environmental laws.

Backed by the us administration, the Pentagon wants certain regulations -- concerning endangered species, marine mammals, air and water quality and the clean-up of explosives and munitions -- to be eased at various defence facilities around the nation. The department of defence has claimed such immunity on the pretext that adherence to environmental laws impedes military training and preparedness. Its stand is outlined in the 'Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative'. Pentagon sent the proposed legislation to Capitol Hill in 2002.

In a recent statement, epa administrator Christie Whitman expressed confidence that the proposed exemptions would still give the agency the leeway to intervene if military training poses a health or environmental threat. "We have the ability to be proactive in protecting public health and the environment, while still allowing the military to do the work they need to do," said Whitman after an address to the Town Hall, Los Angeles, a non-partisan forum.

Her answer came in reply to a question from 18-year old Andrea Chang from Hacienda Heights high school. "It was the kind of answer I expected. She is in the Bush administration," said Chang later. Environmentalists echoed the same sentiment. "Whitman works for the most anti-environmental President (read: George W Bush) in history. She is trying to toe the administration line," alleged Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist with the Idyllwild-based Center for Biological Diversity.

The California epa is also worried that the proposed legislation could hinder its efforts to regulate and clean-up defence training and industrial sites around the state. "We understand that the armed forces need to do their job. But we do not believe that the Pentagon should take advantage of a situation to try to break down safeguards, which protect not only the environment but also the health and safety of the citizens of our country," said California epa spokesperson William Rukeyser. However, Whitman downplayed those concerns. "If a site is contaminated, we will work with the military to clean it up to the standards we hold today."

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