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Q & A With David Bell: The Status Of Munitions Once Fired And Sitting On The Operational Range
By EDGARDO VEGA YUNQUÉ
August 4, 2003
During 2002, Waste News published four overviews of waste generator market sectors: automotive, health care, electronics and the military. In 2003, we revisit those markets, conducting Q&A interviews with one prominent official from each sector. This issue's topic is the military.
David E. Bell, associate deputy general counsel for the U.S. Army, is helping spearhead the Defense Department's continuing effort to convince Congress to amend the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Cleanup and Liability Act (Superfund), and the Clean Air Act. The Defense Department argues that unless Congress clarifies language in the solid waste, Superfund and air pollution laws, the military's ability to operate ranges and train troops for combat is in jeopardy. Bell spoke with Waste News Government Affairs Editor Bruce Geiselman following a presentation at a recent environmental conference in San Diego.
Waste News: Why are the changes you are seeking to RCRA, CERCLA and the Clean Air Act necessary for the military?
David E. Bell: In response to RCRA, we've had lawsuits at Fort Richardson in Alaska and at Vieques, Puerto Rico, in which the central issue has been the status of munitions once fired and sitting on the operational range. Our legislative provision would take that narrow question, resolve it in favor of what the regulatory practice has been at the federal and state level since RCRA was enacted - in other words, not a change to the way we currently operate.
With regard to the CERCLA provision, private litigants at Fort Richardson have alleged that our firing of munitions on an active range constitutes a release, and a release triggers a number of different requirements under CERCLA that would in essence force us to go into a middle of an operational range and start doing investigatory type work to see what effects there may have been.
We're trying to find a balance between the environmental stewardship issue that we have, along with our national defense mission. One shouldn't exclude the other. We believe that both can coexist.
With respect to the Clean Air Act provision, that is not driven by private litigation, but it is driven by a practical reality that as we develop new [weapons] systems, as we look across the fort structure and move materiel around to accommodate mission requirements, we may very well run into problems at the local level with state implementation plan rules regarding air emissions. So it's important that we have some degree of flexibility. It's not an exemption from the requirements of the [State Implementation Plan], it's not an exclusion from our requirement to comply, it's merely a three-year period during which we can achieve compliance.
WN: Why is live-fire training important for the troops?
Bell: Live-fire training attempts to recreate as best we can the conditions under which soldiers and their equipment will have to operate, [such as] nighttime with the actual sounds of battle and the pressure of even a simulated environment. Operating under these kinds of conditions are things you want them to experience before they actually go into the heat of battle. There is simply no comparison between a popgun and hearing a Howitzer close up firing off a 155 round.
WN: What do you see as some of the misconceptions regarding the Defense Department's proposals?
Bell: The biggest misconception is that the department is seeking broad exemptions from environmental laws and regulations. The provisions that we have offered through legislation are very narrowly tailored to address a very specific issue at very specific locations. They are not broad exemptions.
WN: Where do your efforts stand with trying to pass these changes through Congress?
Bell: The House has included within their defense authorization bill two of the five provisions that were part of the readiness and range preservation initiative - the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Senate included only the Endangered Species Act provision, so the conference [committee] between the House and the Senate will resolve both the final language and which provisions remain. The other three - RCRA, CERCLA and the Clean Air Act - are not currently part of either bill, and there's some question as to whether or not the conferences would be able to consider them. If they are not considered, the department will continue its efforts to air its issues and seek hearings before appropriate committees so those provisions can be vetted and our case made.