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Environmental Rules Hurt U.S. Security, Official Says
By Kevin Spear
September 4, 2002
Protecting the United States from terror is hampered by laws that safeguard land, water and wildlife, a top military authority for the environment said Tuesday.
"There needs to be a balance between the needs of environmental stewards and the needs of military training," said Raymond F. DuBois Jr., a deputy undersecretary of defense, who said special consideration should be given to the unique role of armed forces.
"Nobody else in the country is authorized to drop bombs and fire howitzers," said DuBois, a Vietnam War veteran and Pentagon civilian with long involvement in military affairs.
DuBois made his comments in an interview at a south Orange County hotel where he later spoke at a conference for experts in the field of removing land mines and unexploded bombs.
Environmental groups across the country have watched the Department of Defense with growing alarm, fearing that the agency is taking advantage of the nation's heightened concerns about terror attacks.
"This really isn't a matter of national security," said Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Los Angeles. "This is an attempt to grab very broad exemptions to a broad array of popular laws that protect the environment and the health of Americans."
DuBois said defense officials had growing concerns about environmental restrictions before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Did 9-11 make it happen?" he said. "Nope."
However, he conceded that political climate and public opinion in the past year have become more supportive of military preparedness.
"Mr. and Mrs. America are a little bit more aware of the powers the president executes for combat and how he prepares for combat operations," DuBois said.
Military officials have protested that environmental regulations too often work against using live ammunition at training bases and bombing ranges and that applying for special permissions is too much of a burden.
The Department of Defense recently has pushed for what potentially could bring major exemptions in the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
In particular, Congress is debating two provisions pushed by the Department of Defense that would lessen some protections for birds and wildlife habitat when military requirements are at stake.
"We think they are asking for exemptions far beyond what they need," said Beth Lowell, a Washington, D.C., policy analyst for the Endangered Species Coalition. "Let them do it on a case-by-case basis."
DuBois said that in some respects, armed forces are confronting a national or even global sort of Vieques, a small island off mainland Puerto Ricothat the Navy uses for bombing practice.
Political and environmental opposition brought the White House to announce last year that use of the range will halt in 2003.
DuBois said other bases and ranges haven't yet triggered the high-intensity emotion that surrounded Vieques, where a civilian security guard was killed by an errant bomb in 1999.
But he said other bases are vulnerable to lawsuits filed by environmental groups and to encroachment by newly built suburbs that fill with residents who may not favor training exercises.
"There is no more important training than live-ammunition training," DuBois said.