(Interview with National Public Radio, "The Connection." Also participating were Jeffrey Rook, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Congressman Joel Hefley from Colorado)
Gordon: I'm Dick Gordon. This is "The Connection".
The Marines had to promise that their tanks wouldn't run over any endangered desert tortoises in order to get permission from the Bureau of Land Management for a massive training exercise that begins in Arizona later this month.
The Marines also had to agree not to do any nighttime maneuvers, not to engage in live or simulated firing, and not to venture off established roads and paths. Again, to satisfy various environmental regulations.
The battle over this particular training exercise which is testing the Marines' ability to move large numbers of troops over terrain similar to the Middle East is the latest skirmish in a long-running fight between the Department of Defense and those who want to enforce environmental protection laws. Right now on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon draft legislation is circulating. It would grant the Pentagon exemptions to certain parts of the Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species and other laws at its bases in the United States. The Pentagon says these changes are required for national security.
Connection listeners, do you think it may be necessary to give up some protection of American land in order to protect the American people? How can we balance the need for both tanks and tortoises?
Our telephone number is 1-800-423-8255. We're 1-800-423-TALK.
Now a little later on this hour we'll be joined by Congressman Joel Hefley. He is Chair of the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and he's an advocate for easing some of these environmental restrictions on the military.
Right now we have with us Jeffrey Rook, he is Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. It's a private non-profit group, goes by the initials PEER, and in its own words it is there to protect government employees who protect our environment.
We also have with us from the Pentagon Dr. Paul Mayberry. He is Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Paul Mayberry, I'll start with you if I can, see if you can give us a clear notion of why these changes are required now.
Mayberry: Good morning, Dick. It's a privilege to be with you this morning to discuss Department of Defense efforts to balance, as you said, these two very important national objectives -- both military readiness and environmental stewardship.
The most fundamental military readiness principle is that we must train the way that we intend to fight. Training our forces and testing our weapon systems under realistic combat conditions is not a luxury, it's a commitment, and that commitment is to the American people.
The military mission is unique. We carry out our training and testing not for profit but to ensure the readiness of our forces as ably illustrated right now in Afghanistan. The ability to both fight and win our nation's wars is tied directly to that military readiness resulting from realistic training and there is no substitute.
Yet as --
Gordon: Something changed, though. Is there some reason why these certain exemptions are being sought at this point?
Mayberry: Well, I think equal to the readiness balance here is also the land, sea and air spaces that have been entrusted to us. We well understand that they are irreplaceable national assets. Yet our ability to train and test is being compromised in a variety of ways. Many, as you've mentioned there, and the Department has been working hard really to address this encroachment problem really as a three-prong strategy. One is what I will call targeted legislative and regulatory types of clarifications. Secondly, a commitment to continue our positive environmental stewardship for this current budget request. Over $4.1 billion for our environmental programs. And finally, to continue the education and outreach process. For example, participation in programs like this this morning.
Gordon: Jeffrey Rook, do you have any concern about the exemptions that are being mooted in the legislation that's circulating in Washington now?
Rook: Absolutely. Despite being touted as balanced, these are tremendously unbalanced. They give the U.S. military the right to contaminate drinking water supply, pollute the air, eradicate whole populations of animals without any kind of restrictions whatsoever.
Gordon: You mean it's sort of carte blanche that the legislation would give them?
Rook: It's giving them exemptions.
Mayberry: Let me say --
Rook: -- compliance with the law.
Mayberry: -- there currently is no legislative package on the Hill. We have been charged by the Secretary of Defense to work in the interagency to address many of these points as well as to target the types of initiatives that we would seek, and whether these are legislative or whether these are regulatory is still being discussed with the Council of Environmental Quality. I've personally met, and others here, with EPA, with Interior, and Commerce. Right now there is no package in terms of an administrative position.
We do, as has been alluded to, are working that but that has yet to come out of the Department of Defense.
Rook: Perhaps we misheard, but two weeks ago Pentagon representatives testified they were going to be seeking statutory changes in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act. Did I get that wrong?
Mayberry: That is exactly correct, but those proposals are still being worked in the interagency forum and have yet to receive the blessing of the Department of Defense before they go to the Hill.
Rook: The timing of this suggests that the language is eventually going to be decided upon a week before it's put to a vote, and that's the sort of an absence of a dialogue and lack of candor that I think aggravates the Pentagon's problems here.
Mayberry: I think we have been working in outreach, as I said, as part of our overall three-prong strategy here.
Rook: Your outreach is within yourselves. You're not doing outreach to the communities that are affected, you're not doing outreach to --
Gordon: Hang on a second, Jeffrey. We're getting a little bit down that track before we're actually defining what it is specifically that we're talking about.
In the testimony that I was reading yesterday to the Military Readiness Subcommittee I was going through a lot of what Paul Mayberry was alluding to earlier, and that is that the military already makes a lot of allowances for endangered species and breeding times on bases. That's there right now. We can agree on that, right Jeffrey?
Gordon: And is it your concern that that will all be removed or that the military is looking for a completely different way of using its bases? I need you to explain your principal concern here.
Rook: The principal concern is that it will allow the military to wreak unnecessary damage without any kind of restraint. Moreover, it's based upon a false premise of a conflict between national security and environmental protection and I don't --
Gordon: What's the false premise?
Rook: The premise is that our national security in fact has been compromised. What the testimony says, if you read it carefully, is that the accommodations do come at some additional financial expense and some loss of time, but our troops that are deployed in several places around the world are not lacking for want of readiness. The encroachment concern is one that's being articulated as a future concern if unchecked in the next decade as new weapon systems are brought on-line and vast new areas of land are going to be required to test and to train with these weapons, then there's going to be a much sharper conflict.
But to the extent that there's going to be a redefinition of the Pentagon may need to double the amount of land from 25 million to 50 million acres, environmental laws are just one of a host of factors that should be openly discussed.
There was a reference before to outreach. From all we've been able to see is the Pentagon is talking to itself. It's not talking to anyone really outside of the government.
Gordon: Connection listeners. Our telephone number is 1-800-423-8255. What we're talking about this hour are some legislative proposals that are circulating on Capitol Hill. It is not, as Dr. Paul Mayberry points out, a specific legislative package at this point but it is real, it is being talked about in terms of exemptions that the military would be looking for the way that it uses its military bases, and as Jeffrey Rook says, it's the way it may want to expand those bases.
We're going first to Beverly, Massachusetts, and Theresa is calling in. Hi, Theresa.
Caller: Hi, how are you today?
Caller: The reason I called is, as far as the government goes, I mean setting all the standards and laws they do for environmental protection, then I just feel like they are held to a much higher standard than a lot of other people, and to change these laws I think creates a tremendous amount of turmoil among, it's trickled down with other cities and towns that may say oh, geez, we don't have to do this because we can change our laws to fit what our needs are, and I find that to be inappropriate.
Gordon: So if the U.S. Government is looking for exemptions from U.S. laws then why would a corporation or someone else not feel entitled to the same sort of thing?
Caller: That's correct.
Gordon: Paul Mayberry, can you speak to that?
We do not seek to be exempt from existing environmental laws. DoD will continue to comply with the same environmental laws as private organizations when we are engaged in similar activities.
What we are proposing would be clarification that would forestall the extension of existing laws and regulations --
Rook: You lost me there, Paul. Clarifications -- Isn't that the same thing as an exemption?
Mayberry: No. Let me give you an example.
Just a few weeks ago a Judge in a Federal District Court ruled that the Navy was in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unintentional, and let me stress that, unintentional takes associated with military training in the Mariana Islands, and a take is considered either killing or harassing a migratory bird.
This law which was passed in 1918 does have a provision for granting permits for the intentional takes of birds. For example, if your golf club sought to remove migratory geese from its fairways, such a permit could be granted. However, if a Navy aircraft strikes a migratory bird on takeoff, then that is considered a violation of the law.
Now the Judge in this case appreciated the Navy's need to train and for readiness, but the law gave him very little if any latitude regarding permitting of unintentional takes and he advised that we work with Congress to seek clarification of this type of law and that's exactly the type of limited, focused, targeted clarifications that the Department of Defense is working in the interagency to seek to get.
Gordon: Theresa, part of the case that Paul is making is that as the military changes it needs to train in different ways, and Jeffrey point out that perhaps in larger areas. Do you see that as something that may be necessary under the circumstances?
Caller: I think in some cases that's probably true but I think when you use words clarification and exemption, I think you find that you start playing a little bit of semantics with what the meanings are of words. And at times, sometime you have to, pardon the pun, bite the bullet and just go ahead and say okay, we have to do it this way. Let's make it work so that we do follow what the laws are and do the best we can. Perhaps there would be an even more creative way of doing things as far as what the military advances are going to be as opposed to an all-out, let's just go and destroy all this and we'll figure out something later.
Gordon: Thanks for your call.
Mayberry: Let me speak to that.
Rook: -- already have a national security exemption, that the President or the Secretary of Defense can invoke national security, can suspend the application of these laws.
Congressman Hefley at his hearing a couple of weeks ago specifically asked the Pentagon to address why this is a problem. Why haven't you availed yourselves of the exemptions in current law? And he didn't get a straight answer. And I'm wondering if I can get a straight answer.
Gordon: I think we'll be able to accommodate you when we return after our break because Congressman Joel Hefley has been listening in on the latter part of the conversation. We will begin when we come back by talking about the committee hearings that he is chairing at this point.
Connection listeners, our telephone number is 1-800-423-8255. We're talking about that argument or disagreement that exists right now between perhaps the way in which the military is using its bases and the request from military authorities for a little bit more latitude in the way the Army, the Navy and the Air Force go about their business of training, particularly on the bases in the United States.
Our telephone number 1-800-423-8255. My name is Dick Gordon. This is "The Connection" from NPR.
Gordon: You're listening to "The Connection" from National Public Radio. My name is Dick Gordon. Our telephone number 1-800-423-8255. We're talking about a debate over the environmental laws that are currently in place as the Army tries to exercise its own training on bases within the United States. Some suggestion, some proposals that perhaps some exemptions are in order for the military in the way that it's training is changing.
As I mentioned just before we went away for the break, we now have Congressman Joel Hefley with us on the line from Colorado, and Congressman if you don't mind I'll start by quoting the very last part of your own statement at the beginning of these hearings where you talk about the fact that Section 2014 of Title 10 United States Code actually gives the Secretary of Defense the authority to obtain a moratorium when there's some sort of action that affects training or other readiness activity and you point out the Secretary has never exercised this authority.
What's the point of asking that question? Why is that important in our understanding of this?
Hefley: Well everywhere I go there are complaints about the encroachment issue -- not just environmental encroachment but other kinds, developmental encroachment and other kinds of things, and so I, in researching the law, discovered that there is the exemption there if they wanted to exercise, and have asked repeatedly why they've not exercised that if this is becoming such a big problem and I have not gotten a straight answer I think as was indicated by one of your guests there.
But my sense is that the military has proved itself to be very good stewards of the environment and I think they want to work with environmental interests to make this work. We have two competing values here but they don't have to be mutually exclusive values. They're values that we can work with together. But there are some things that are just plain silly.
For instance the example that was given by, I believe, Mr. Mayberry. I got in on the middle of the conversation so I'm not quite sure, but I think it was Mr. Mayberry of the birds, the migratory birds.
What he was saying is if an airplane hits and kills one of those birds then the military can be held accountable for that out there -- now that's ridiculous. That's nonsense. I think even Mr. Rush [sic] would agree that that is nonsense. That's not what the law was intended to deal with.
But most, however, of what Mr. Rush [sic] said is absolute baloney. I don't mean to be offensive with this, but I'm Chairman of the committee where this legislation, any change in this legislation has to go through. In fact, we have to write that legislation in my committee and there is no legislation at this point.
So when you go off saying that gosh, that we're going to exempt the military and let them foul the air and foul the water and all this kind of thing that's simply not true. There is no legislation to do that and I don't think anyone wants to do anything like that.
But we do have problems and there's no question about it.
I was out at Pendleton Marine Base a few weeks ago and they have, I don't know what it is, 100 square miles, 200 square miles, they've got a lot of training area. But what's happened is that people have built up around that area and they forced all the critters that are around there into the open space which is the military reservation. Therefore, if you take overlay maps and lay it on there and you say this is your total training area, but you lay one map down and say you can't train in this area because of the ferry shrimp and you put another overlay down and you say you can't train in this area because of the antiquities act and another --
Gordon: Okay, but if we're talking about that really high-priced real estate of Orange County and the fact that all these homes have pressed all the creatures, as you say, onto the military training base, shouldn't it also be a question whether or not the military training base ought itself to be moved to a place where there aren't 18 endangered species?
Hefley: Yeah, would you like to tell me where that would be? Because this isn't just at Pendleton. This is all over the country where the military reservation becomes the only big open space in the area. We're not just talking about Southern California, we're talking a lot of places.
Gordon: Let's hear from Jeffrey Rook here.
Rook: Well I don't believe that I'm the person that is dispensing cold cuts here. In terms of the issues, in terms of whether or not there has actually been a restriction on the ability to train, the Pentagon witnesses admitted they had no evidence of that. They indicated there were going to be future problems and they had work-arounds and their things, but that it did not impact the military mission.
Moreover, I think the Representative, the way he conducted the hearing, and the fact that he only heard from the Pentagon and the other government representatives presented a very one-sided view.
For example Fort Hood, one of the bases that's been pointed at, their restrictions. One of the larger restrictions is to accommodate the cattlemen who have free grazing rights sponsored by prominent members of the Senate Armed Services Committee from the State of Texas. Nobody's proposing to eliminate that encroachment. Instead I think they want to concentrate only on the encroachments where they don't have high friends in the Armed Services structure.
Hefley: That's baloney again.
Rook: If you're going to have a dialogue then you need to include other people than the Pentagon.
Hefley: Well that's right, but we wanted to understand what the problem was. This was a preliminary hearing to get started with this process and we wanted to understand what their problems were. It's nonsense that the encroachment of cattlemen wouldn't be part of the equation as well. If that encroaches on --
Hefley: And it's not a prospective thing; it is right now where they're having trouble doing this.
They have one beach, for instance, at Pendleton they can actually land on but they can't dig foxholes when they land like you really would in a fighting situation because you "might" interfere with some camp of some Indian when they were there fishing some time --
Mayberry: I'll be glad to address that.
Rook: -- require that all land be use for all purposes all the time.
Gordon: Let's hear from Paul Mayberry on this.
Mayberry: I would agree with Mr. Rook that there are future concerns as the Department has stated but there are also now issues. As the Congressman has alluded to, there's 17 miles of beach line at Camp Pendleton and about 500 yards of that can be used for amphibious operations. There are flight level restrictions at NAS Oceana in Virginia, Nellis Air Force Base, and the Goldwater Range that are being imposed -- and impose negative training values in terms of the way that we actually conduct operations.
There's been cancellation of major training events and exercises. For example in the calendar year 2000 almost 40 percent of the live fire missions at the Goldwater Range were canceled. Critical habitat has been alluded to at the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar, at the Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado. These are now problems. Frequent --
Gordon: Paul Mayberry, I know you do have to leave and so I want you to sort of give us your parting notion on this because you are, as you know, going to have to be a part of finding a new balance here. And as the military looks for concessions in the land that it uses for training, so the environmentalists and other people will be looking for concessions.
Can you see a compromise here as you look a year or two ahead that would satisfy both the military and people who have questions and concerns about how the land is used?
Mayberry: Certainly, and I think that's exactly where we need to work in terms of with our Congress to bring this issue to the forefront of balancing these two national objectives.
As I said, we have an ongoing dialogue now with other federal agencies to seek to identify specific types of clarifications for military readiness activities. In no way will the Department of Defense back away from its environmental responsibilities along the lines that are similar to the commercial sector. So as Theresa, the caller, mentioned, in no way is the Department backing off from its environmental responsibilities in the key areas that we have consistent complements in the private sector. We will work with the Congress and put forth as part of the defense authorization submission some ideas that come out of our interagency dialogue, but that process is continuing.
Gordon: Dr. Mayberry, I want to move on to calls. I want to thank you for being with us for the part of the program you were here.
Mayberry: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.