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News Release


Release No: 650-96
November 20, 1996


Remarks by

Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

To The

Society of American Engineers

Washington, D.C.

Nov. 20, 1996

Last month, I visited the Little Star Shipyard in Archangel, Russia. What in the world is a Secretary of Defense doing visiting the Little Star Shipyard in Archangel? I went there to observe the dismantlement of a nuclear submarine. A few years ago, that submarine was out on patrol, carrying enough nuclear missiles to destroy dozens of American cities. Now it is being dismantled by some of the same Russian workers who built it, using equipment provided by the United States Department of Defense.

The waters around the Little Star shipyard are packed with old Russian nuclear submarines. These submarines no longer threaten the world with a nuclear holocaust; however, they still are a major environmental hazard to the Arctic region. By helping Russia dismantle these subs, we are creating a win-win- win situation.

It's a win for America -- the submarine we saw being dismantled will never again threaten American cities. It's a win for the Russians -- the workers doing the dismantlement were previously unemployed because of the decrease in orders for nuclear submarines. And it's a win for the environment -- the submarine's nuclear fuel will be disposed of safely; and the sub's components are being recycled into materials that can be used to produce commercial products.

To use defense resources to destroy weapons that once threatened us makes good sense on its face. Indeed, that's what we call it defense by other means. But to use defense resources to protect and preserve the environment may seem counter-intuitive.

Each year, Congress gives the DoD environmental budget a special working-over. The critics wonder why we are spending scarce defense resources on what seems to be a non-defense activity. They say, Focus on a strong defense and leave the environment to others.

They are wrong. A say that a strong environmental program is an integral component of a strong defense -- and a strong Department of 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 other militaries around the world. Let me take these one at a time.

First, let's be clear that defense environmental protection is critical to military readiness and to military quality of life. Our military personnel live, train, and work in the same location...in the same environment. We must not expose our forces, their families and military communities to environmental health and safety hazards. So we take care to limit their exposure to hazardous materials in the work place. And we take great care to keep our base communities informed of what we are doing on base, and involve local citizens in making environmental clean-up decisions. These are people who work on our bases; who support our troops; and who are key members of our effort to maintain a quality force.

A second point is that defense environmental protection is good management, because as any good business manager knows, if you pollute today you pay tomorrow. We are paying the price right now, because years ago the Defense Department like many industrial organizations, we did not invest enough attention or resources in environmental protection. As a result, today our military installations contain about 10,000 contaminated sites. That's land we cannot use for training and operations. And on bases we're closing, that's land we must restore at great cost, before we can turn it over to local communities for reuse.

Cleaning up these sites is costing us more than $2 billion a year, which is nearly half of our overall defense environmental budget. We don't want to make these mistakes again.

A third reason for an emphasis on environment is that taking care of the environment is good citizenship. The Defense Department is the steward for over 25 million acres of public land. These lands include some of America's most pristine landscapes and precious resources; including rare and endangered species, national historic places and Native American burial sites. Many of our bases are part of civilian communities in close proximity to residential neighborhoods and schools. Military activities can have a significant impact on the quality of the land, air and water that we all use.

We protect a beautiful nation, and we must do our part to keep it beautiful. For all these reasons, environmental protection is a key task for every military manager. But it is also a fact that defense environmental protection is not an option. We in the Defense Department face the same local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations that apply to every organization and institution in this country.

We take these laws and regulations seriously. Indeed we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. That is why, three years ago, we created the Office of Environmental Security at the Pentagon, and appointed Sherri Goodman to coordinate and lead our efforts at the highest levels. That is why the Services have each appointed a flag officer to lead environmental, safety and occupational health activities in the ranks. That is why, over the past several years, we have worked hard to reduce our damage to the environment. And it is paying off.

From 1986 to 1992, we cut our hazardous wastes in half. Our goal is to cut it in half again by 1999. Cutting waste not only improves environmental quality, it also quite obviously reduces disposal costs. Pollution prevention is a classic good investment. And it saves money that can be used for other defense programs.

All of this sounds like a good idea whose time has come. But over the longer term, we must deal with the problem of environmental pollution at its source. So we are designing environmental responsibility into our new weapons systems; by reducing hazardous emissions in the building of new systems; and by reducing the need for hazardous materials in the operation and maintenance of these systems.

For example, 20 years ago there were about 3,000 requirements for ozone-depleting chemicals when we built the C-5 cargo plane. As we build the new F-22 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.

So the Defense Department has learned a lot about how to conduct the military mission while protecting the environment. We've gotten ringing praise from the unlikeliest sources. Last year, a group of six national environmental groups signed a letter which said, and I quote: Almost unnoticed, U.S. military personnel have become major players in the battle to clean up and protect our environment.

Well, As Secretary of Defense, I am proud of this growing record. The military services -- and all of you here today -- should be proud too. And when you are proud of something, you want to share it with others. Indeed, the US military has a wealth of experience and expertise that it can share with the militaries of other nations. Our defense environmental programs are becoming another important tool in which to engage the militaries of new democracies. In doing so, we can make a small contribution to a better global environment; and have a positive influence on their approach to defense and the way they manage resources.

We are doing this, for example, with the Russians in the Arctic. Just two months ago, I signed a unique agreement with Russia and Norway in which our forces will work together to ensure that their military activities do not harm the Arctic environment. I have been to the Arctic twice this year. I will never forget the pristine landscape, the crystal waters and the sharp fresh air. Anybody who has seen the Arctic knows why we must preserve this raw and fragile environment. Geographically, the Arctic is the closest route between the United States and Russia. So it is fitting that in preserving this route, we bring our nations closer together.

We are also working with the Russians to use our intelligence capabilities to map out environmental contamination. Earlier this year, Vice President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin exchanged maps that vividly depicted environmental conditions over Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Yeysk Air Base in Russia. This exchange was unique because the United States produced the map of the Russian base, and the Russians produced the map of the American base.

These bilateral exchanges not only provide us with important environmental science data; they are also another way we are overcoming a half century of mistrust by working closely together on common pursuits.

All over the world, the US military is helping to spread the word on how armed forces can protect the environment. It is part of the curriculum when military officers from Eastern and Central Europe come to our military schools. They have exactly the same concerns we do about protecting their troop living areas and training facilities. 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, we spread the word on the other side of the globe by joining with Australia and Canada to host the first Asia- Pacific Defense Environmental Conference, which drew delegates from 32 nations. We will use that conference as a model for a similar conference we are hosting for the 34 democracies from North, Central and South America.

There is a great benefit when militaries of the world do their part to protect and preserve their environments. There is a 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.

Thomas Jefferson once said, The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. All nations own shares of that common stock. And all nations share a common obligation to preserve it so that our common stock provides the capital for the labor and lives of future generations. I am proud that the U.S. military is playing a positive role; and you all should be proud too of the role that you're playing to make the U.S. military a leader in environmental security in the world.

Thank you very much.

(Click here for the questions and answers which followed these remarks.)

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