Amendment May Tighten Environmental Rules on Military

The U.S. Senate last month stripped from the Defense authorization bill language that would have modestly eased restrictions that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) places on training at U.S. military installations.

The bill as it emerged from committee would have prevented additional land on military reservations from being designated as critical habitat for endangered species as long as the military base had an integrated plan for managing natural resources.

But Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) sponsored an amendment on the Senate floor to force the Pentagon to put together “high quality” natural resources management plans for its bases, a provision that in practice could actually be worse than the status quo under the ESA.

Lautenberg’s amendment passed by a vote of 51 to 48 on May 21. (See HE rollcall, June 2)

Three of the four Democratic senators running for President-Vietnam vet John Kerry (Mass.), Bob Graham (Fla.), and “national security hawk” Joe Lieberman (Conn.)-voted for the amendment. Sen. John Edwards (D.-N.C.) did not vote.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Senators Olympia Snowe (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) also voted for the Lautenberg amendment.

Awful Legislation

“It was an awful piece of legislation,” said a Republican Senate aide who works on environmental issues. “It says you actually have to recover an endangered species, not just protect. That has never been a requirement before. . . . This means that they have to be able to take the species off the endangered list.” This has rarely happened in the history of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), he said.

The House passed a version of the Defense authorization bill with language favorable to the Pentagon’s requests regarding two environmental laws, the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Pro-military conferees will seek to have the House language rather than the Senate language included in the final bill, said the aide, but negotiations have yet to begin in earnest.

The Pentagon had not asked for an exemption from the Endangered Species Act but only asked for provisions that would effectively freeze the slow encroachment on the use of military bases. It asked for changes to the MMPA that would allow it to use its new long-range submarine-detecting sonar. “Snowe is being obstinate in opposing the MMPA provision,” said the aide.

According to a Pentagon fact sheet, the department also wanted to “extend the allowable time to comply with Clean Air Act when units are moved to an installation” and to “limit regulation of munitions under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) if and only if munitions are used on an active range.” Said the aide, “We want to come back next year and do those others.”