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Pallone Opposes DOD Exemptions of Environmental Laws

April 21, 2004
Press Release

"Thank you Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity this morning to examine the Department of Defense's proposed exemptions from long standing environmental laws in the name of military readiness. I am greatly concerned that while the proposed exemptions are presented as being narrow in scope, the actual implications to public health and environmental health would be sweeping.

"I am particularly concerned that much of the exemption language lacks clarity, and I have found little documentation that substantiates the military's need to make such gross changes to our nation's environmental statutes. In fact I know that both Governor Christie Todd Whitman, in her role as EPA Administrator and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz last May, noted that there was little to no difficulty in maintaining military readiness while complying with existing environmental laws and the current exemptions afforded the DOD.

"In reviewing the exemptions proposed for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) I am particularly troubled by terminology and definitions that I find ambiguous. I am particularly concerned about the implication that such lack of clarity could have in my state of New Jersey that has some terribly contaminated active, inactive, and formerly used military sites.

"For instance, how would the proposed exemptions from CERCLA or RCRA impact the former Raritan Arsenal where both soil and water contamination threaten people who currently work on the site and residents nearby? Migration of on-site contaminated water is now reaching the Raritan River that could pose a threat to both people and the environment.

"I have grave concerns that the exemptions proposed under RCRA would allow the toxic materials at many sites across the country to remain exposed and allowing further contamination of groundwater. Additionally, I am concerned that the exemptions from CERCLA that DOD is proposing would delay cleanup of sites such as Raritan until the contamination migrated well beyond the base boundaries, at which time the problems could be ten times as dangerous and exorbitantly expensive.

"The lack of clarity with regard to these exemptions and their implications are problematic. I have found that DOD does not provide a clear definition of operation or non-operational facilities and I am concerned that this ambiguity will allow the DOD to arbitrarily decide what constitutes an operational verses non-operation verses inactive military site at its will depending on the level of exemption is seeks from environmental compliance.

"I would also like to note that I find the DOD request to be exempt for Clean Air Act provisions ironic given EPA's report last week that 474 cities in this country are out of compliance with ozone standards. While millions of Americans are exposed to unhealthy air and elevated ozone levels, the Administration seeks not only to roll back mercury emission standards, but proposes to exempt a significant contributor to air quality nationwide. While the Administration places more burdens on the States to comply with Clean Air Act provisions and ozone standards, it is doing little, and in fact undermining the States ability to improve its air quality.

"The Bush Administration's attempt to undermine current environmental law under the guise of military readiness not only damages the environment that this body has worked so hard to protect, but it also puts Americans, military families, military personnel and civilians at risk of adverse health impacts from the known or suspected contamination at over 15 million acres of operational, closed or formerly used military installations. The federal government has a responsibility to abide by the very laws it creates, if not, how can we expect others to abide by them."