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Environmental Protection Key to Readiness

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 1996 – "Environmental protection is critical to military readiness and to military quality of life," Defense Secretary William J. Perry recently told the Society of American Military Engineers.

Perry outlined the department's efforts to protect and preserve the environment during a speech here Nov. 20. He said a strong environmental program is an integral part of a strong defense.

"The Defense Department must have an environmental program that protects our troops and families; that manages our training and living areas carefully; that fulfills our obligation to be good citizens to the community in which we live; and that sets a good example to militaries around the world," Perry said.

Protecting military families from health and safety hazards means limiting their exposure to hazardous materials and keeping base communities involved in environmental cleanup decisions, Perry said. In the past, a lack of environmental protection programs on military installations resulted in about 10,000 contaminated sites, he said. Cleanup costs more than $2 billion a year, nearly half of the overall defense environmental budget.

"We don't want to make these mistakes again," Perry said.

From 1986 to 1992, DoD cut the hazardous wastes it produced by half, and plans call for a further 50 percent reduction by 1999. Officials take into account environmental responsibilities when building new weapon systems. Hazardous emissions are reduced while building new systems, and the need for hazardous materials in the systems' operations and maintenance also is reduced.

"For example, 20 years ago there were about 3,000 requirements for ozonedepleting chemicals when we built the C5 cargo plane," Perry said. "As we build the new F22 fighter plane, we will use just one. The Navy has reduced the number of hazardous materials needed to maintain and operate its new attack submarine. Over its life cycle, that submarine will generate 90 percent less hazardous waste than current submarines."

The Defense Department's environmental concerns extend throughout the world, Perry said. During a recent trip to Archangel, Russia, he watched Russians dismantle a nuclear submarine using U.S.made, DoDsupplied equipment. While the subs no longer threaten the world, Perry said, they represent a major environmental hazard to the Arctic region. Helping Russians dismantle the subs and safely dispose of their nuclear fuel benefits everyone, he said.

U.S., Russian and Norwegian officials recently signed an agreement to ensure military activities do not harm the Arctic environment. U.S. and Russian officials are mapping environmental contamination at military bases. Military officers from Eastern and Central Europe attending U.S. military schools receive training in environmental protection.

"They have the same concerns we do about protecting their troop living areas and training facilities," Perry said. "We helped the Polish military organize its own environmental office, and now Hungary, the Czech Republic and several other nations in the region are also expanding their defense environmental operations.

In September, the United States, Australia and Canada hosted the first AsiaPacific Defense Environmental Conference, which drew delegates from 32 nations. U.S. officials are slated to host a conference for 34 democracies from North, Central and South America, Perry said.

"There is a great benefit when militaries of the world do their part to protect and preserve their environments," he said. "There is greater benefit when they do this by working together. Not only are we making the world a cleaner and safer place, we are also bridging old chasms and building new security relationships based on trust, cooperation and warmth. That makes the world a more peaceful place."

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