WASHINGTON — The Defense Department, which has won congressional exemptions from environmental laws in the last two years, now wants to change an internal policy that commits the department to sound environmental practices.
A draft of the proposal, which would replace a 1996 directive, eliminates the Pentagon's vow to "display environmental security leadership within DOD activities worldwide." It stresses, instead, the "national defense mission."
The new proposal replaces a list of concrete responsibilities with vague guidance to the military about how to prevent pollution and guarantee compliance with federal and international laws.
The directive would not affect any ongoing cleanup efforts by the Defense Department.
"The Pentagon is transforming itself in to an entity concerned only about its own logistics and facility management -- and the public be damned," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained a copy of the proposal.
The Defense Department has a checkered environmental record. It has more facilities on the Superfund National Priorities List than any other entity in the U.S. It is blamed for contaminating billions of gallons of drinking water. A 2003 report by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce concluded that the department was responsible for "28,500 potentially contaminated sites across the country."
Yet the latest proposal deletes language from the 1996 policy that said the Pentagon would be responsible for:
-- "Protecting, preserving and, when required, restoring and enhancing the quality of the environment."
-- "Reducing risk to human health and the environment by identifying, evaluating and, where necessary, remediating contamination resulting from past DOD activities."
-- "Preventing pollution and minimizing adverse environmental consequences."
-- "Complying with applicable U.S. statutes, regulations, executive orders, binding international agreements, other legal requirements, and U.S. environmental, safety, occupational health, explosives safety, fire and emergency services and pest management policies."
-- "Conserving and restoring, where necessary, the natural and cultural heritage represented on DOD installations within the United States."
Those promises are replaced by one paragraph that calls on the military to "make prudent investments in initiatives that support mission accomplishment, enhance readiness, reduce future funding needs, prevent pollution, ensure cost effective compliance and maximize the existing resource capability."
Pentagon officials refused to comment on the substance of the proposal.
"The directive is still in draft form and being reviewed by department officials," Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said.
Ruch said the proposal reflects a view within the Pentagon that environmental protection is not a priority. Defense Department environmental specialists who belong to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility have told him that they have used the 1996 directive to stress the importance of their work to their superiors.
"America's defenders -- the men and women who lead our armed forces -- know that we don't have to pollute America to protect it," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
Pope said the military has been responsible for some of the "best and most visionary environmental innovation" in the past, adding, "It's sad that the politicians who run the Pentagon are afraid of it and want to slow it down."
Since President Bush took office, the Pentagon has won exemptions from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act and seeks exemption from the Clean Air Act and two toxic waste laws.