Technology Helps BRAC 2005 Environmental Efforts, Official Says
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
ATLANTA, May 5, 2006 The Internet, new technology and other tools not available in previous Base Realignment and Closure rounds are helping the Defense Department meet its environmental responsibilities in the current round of closures, a top DoD official said here yesterday.
Alex A. Beehler, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, addressed more than 900 government and community leaders gathered here for a conference focusing on the 2005 BRAC round, which will be implemented over the next six years.
Citing examples from DoD's annual environmental awards, which were presented at the Pentagon on May 3, Beehler told the audience that similar efforts at installations around the country bode well for communities affected by BRAC 2005. He noted that DoD has presented awards for environmental stewardship and conservation for 42 years, far predating awareness created by Earth Day observances in later years.
"It just hits home that what the military services and components are doing in the field of environment and conservation goes way beyond compliance," he said. "And I think that's an important point to remember as we work through the issues of cleanup and sustainable development that will be raised time and time again as we go through the BRAC process on an installation-by-installation basis."
Beehler said the Defense Department has gained 18 years of experience in dealing with base closure environmental issues since the first BRAC round and that the department now has much better knowledge of what the "environmental footprint" is at each of its installations. He also noted the significant evolution of technology since the last BRAC round, which started in 1995.
"We can find out, and we know quicker and more accurately, what the potential environmental problems are at a given site in a given installation," he said. He added that the department is now much more sophisticated in determining the appropriate treatment for environmental problems.
Beehler said that as a former Justice Department litigator, he wants to be sure all of DoD's environmental efforts are aboveboard.
"I am very sensitive that anything that is done -- whether BRAC or not BRAC -- will always be done in accordance with all of the environmental laws and will be approved by the appropriate regulator and regulatory authorities," he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency, he said, has publicly stated that the military services' compliance levels and enforcement capabilities on environmental issues are equal to or superior to typical industry levels.
Since BRAC 1995, Beehler said, DoD has been given greater statutory authority in turning property over to communities early when appropriate and greater regulatory flexibility in its approaches on environmental issues.
Also since the last previous BRAC round, the Internet has come into its own, Beehler noted. Making all of the relevant documents available to the public on the Internet is "a great advantage" that wasn't available in the first four BRAC rounds, he said. A comprehensive Web site to be used as a BRAC 2005 resource is in the works and is expected to be launched in July, he added.
Installations marked for closure by BRAC 2005 have a combined total of 1,763 Installation Restoration Program sites and 78 Military Munitions Response Program sites.
The Installation Restoration Program identifies, evaluates and cleans up DoD sites where hazardous substances have been released into the environment. The Military Munitions Response Program addresses unexploded ordnance, discarded munitions and munitions constituents that are present to some degree at most training facilities and sites.
Ninety-five percent of the IRP sites and 21 percent of the MMRP sites are now in a "remedy in place" or "response complete" status, Beehler said.
Beehler said everything he's seen makes him optimistic about the current BRAC round.
"I believe from the great cooperative effort that I'm seeing from the communities (and) from the military at the installation and at the headquarters level that this will help go a long way in making BRAC 2005 a win-win situation for all concerned, and very successfully implemented," he said.