By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008
Environmental officials from several states that have tried to force the Pentagon to clean up polluted military sites say the Defense Department has retaliated by reducing or withholding federal oversight dollars due them.
A group representing state environmental officials says California, Colorado, Alabama, Ohio and about a dozen other states have been pressured by the Pentagon to back off the oversight of cleanup at polluted military sites.
"In the worst-case scenarios, the Department of Defense is intimidating a state environmental agency into not pursing enforcement," said Steve Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of States.
The disclosures came during a Senate hearing yesterday on the Pentagon's refusal to follow final orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up three military bases: Fort Meade in Maryland, Fort McGuire in New Jersey and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Congress gives the Pentagon about $30 million annually to dispense to states with contaminated military bases, to help pay the states' costs to oversee cleanup of those sites.
But in 2006, the Pentagon began telling some states they would no longer receive money for various oversight activities and would lose all of the money if they took enforcement action.
Alabama, for example, ordered the Army to clean up a former chemical weapons school, Camp Sibert, after a study ranked it worst in the nation among old military sites for the hazard of unexploded weapons.
Soon after, the Pentagon withheld oversight money and held fast until Alabama revoked the cleanup order, said Dania Rodriguez of the association representing the states.
Wayne Arny, deputy undersecretary of Defense, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he was not aware that the Pentagon had cut or threatened to withhold any oversight money.
"If I find that is true, I will stop it," Arny told Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee.
Arny also discussed the Pentagon's refusal to sign agreements to clean up the three sites that the EPA has said pose "imminent and substantial" dangers to public health and the environment. It also has declined to sign agreements required by law that cover 11 other military sites on the Superfund list of the most polluted places in the nation.
He said that the military is committed to protecting public health and the environment and merely differs with the EPA over cleanup procedures. He said the Pentagon was proceeding with its own cleanup.
Under executive branch policy, the EPA will not sue the Pentagon as it would a private polluter. Although the law gives final say to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson in cleanup disputes with other federal agencies, the Pentagon refuses to recognize that provision. Military officials have asked the Justice Department and the White House to intervene in the dispute.
"This has nothing to do with substantive cleanup," Arny told the Senate panel. "This has to do with the form."
Arny said Pentagon lawyers and policymakers judged the EPA's cleanup plans to be "excessive."
But Boxer said it is not the role of the polluter to design the cleanup. "I don't want the EPA making decisions on war strategy, and I don't want you making decisions on environmental cleanup, because you have an interest in the easiest way out," Boxer told Arny.
The Pentagon is the nation's biggest polluter. Of 1,255 Superfund sites, the Pentagon is responsible for 129 -- the most of any entity.