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Defense Officials Work to Keep Environment Healthy

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2007 – Keeping the natural environment healthy is essential to the Defense Department’s success, and the department’s officials are committed to being good stewards of the environment.

“The better the quality of the air, the water (and) the less disturbed the land is, the better we are going to do our testing and training,” Alex A. Beehler, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, said in an interview yesterday., “That’s just a fundamental fact in order for us to carry out our national security mission.”

Speaking several days before the April 22 Earth Day observance, traditionally a time when people around the globe express appreciation for nature, Beehler said the Defense Department “wants to make sure (it’s) a good neighbor” to the environment.

To this end, he said, the department launched a procurement policy in 2004 urging employees and military to “buy green” – purchasing products like recycled office supplies and organically produced goods, and “green” services that benefit the environment.

“The procurement folks (who) have access to electronic catalogues … look in the catalogue and see if there’s a ‘green’ item under the procurement that they can purchase for roughly the same price,” Beehler said. “Very quickly, over 90 percent of the opportunities have been followed up and I think it’s even higher now.”

The Defense Department is the largest consumer of many items, Beehler said, so adopting more responsible consumer behavior is a success that resonates with the public.

“It’s not only the actual purchase made by the military, but (it’s) the recognition throughout our society and other federal agencies that ‘the military is number one in this, they’re leading the way, we should certainly be able to follow in their steps,’” he said.

Other Defense Department environment, safety and occupational health initiatives include cleanup at active and closing bases, maintaining compliance with environmental laws, and conserving natural and cultural resources. The department is also engaged in implementing environmental technology, fire protection, pest management and disease control for its activities worldwide.

Beehler's priorities include implementing the department's environmental readiness initiative, the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, unexploded ordnance management, explosive safety, and pollution prevention, he said.

Being engaged in the natural environment creates “a legal requirement as well as a moral responsibility” to preserve nature, which begins with the individual servicemember, Beehler said.

“As individuals have a greater personal awareness of their own immediate environment, that redounds better to their health (and) their family’s health,” he said. “That becomes a 24-hour responsibility for the individual soldier, sailor (airman and Marine), and his or her respective family.”

On a day-to-day basis, servicemembers can take responsibility for their environmental obligation. “All the major military bases (and Navy ships) have environmental management system plans that are being implemented, and in connection with that, there are also safety and occupational components,” Beehler said.

In Hawaii, where 40 percent of the U.S.’s endangered and threatened species are based, the military has a “huge concentration of activity and plan to expand,” he said. As a result of DoD’s “buffer zone” program, an initiative to operate, manage and own conservationally desirable lands, the Defense Department “has specifically preserved some of these areas around military bases in Hawaii,” he added.

Beehler said conservation partners are making a “concerted effort” to maintain buffer zones around Fort Carson, Colo., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., which has allowed the red-cockaded woodpecker and other endangered species to thrive.

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