to Let Defense Sidestep Protection Laws By:
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2003; Page A33 The
House voted yesterday to exempt the Defense Department from two
laws designed to protect endangered
animals and plants, arguing that the restrictions hamper the military's
ability to train U.S. troops and test weapons.
The 252 to 174 vote
was a victory for the Bush administration, which has spent more
than a year seeking authority to sidestep regulations
meant to protect endangered species, marine mammals and migratory
birds that are on or near military installations.
The measure, which
faces resistance in the Senate, would give the Interior Department
more leeway in setting aside rules in cases where
the military wants to conduct training and testing on the ground,
in the air and in oceans and waterways.
These troops need to have places to train, and these training grounds
are becoming more and more restricted because of applications, and
I think wrongful applications, of our environmental laws," said
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).
House leaders now must reconcile the
measure -- which is part of the Defense Department's annual authorization
bill -- with their
Senate counterparts. The Senate adopted language yesterday requiring
the military to draw up and fund a conservation plan before setting
aside federal environmental rules.
The Senate proposal, offered by
Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and others, was approved 51 to 48, with
most Democrats supporting it and most
Republicans opposing it.
Lautenberg said the proposal would require the secretary of Interior
to determine whether each conservation plan would effectively protect
the species in question and assure that it is adequately funded.
Bush administration has pushed aggressively for the exemptions
since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, suggesting that the
nation could not adequately defend against terrorism without them.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz sent a memo to Pentagon
officials in March, seeking examples of where environmental protections
interfere with military operations.
Environmental advocates and many
Democrats decried the House vote, arguing that it could lead to
the destruction of some animal species.
The measure redefines what constitutes "harassment" of
marine mammals, for example, allowing the Navy to conduct loud tests
near endangered underwater mammals.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W. Va.)
called the provision authored by Hunter "a disaster, to put
it mildly. Our troops have done a superb job. . . . They don't need
to undercut laws."
officials on several bases have begun complaining that they have
been forced to hold off on training and testing in order to
accommodate vulnerable species.
Commanders at Camp Pendleton, a base
nearly 40 miles north of San Diego, have been warring with environmentalists
over how best to
protect endangered animals such as the tidewater goby fish, the
Arroyo toad, the San Diego and Riverside fairy shrimp, and the
gnatcatcher, a songbird.
Hunter displayed maps on the House
floor yesterday depicting the contested areas, saying there was
sufficient room for the
Marine Corps to conduct amphibious training exercises.
questioned Hunter's assessment, noting that of all the species
he identified, just one of them, the tidewater
goby, took up space on training grounds. In that case the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 800 acres of land on Camp Pendleton,
which encompasses 125,000 acres.
These activists suggested that the
House action -- which will be finalized today when the House approves
the overall defense bill
-- was both dangerous and unnecessary, and could have devastating
consequences by disturbing critical habitat.
The Department of Defense does not need across-the-board exemptions
from the nation's two major wildlife conservation laws," said
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "This
is bureaucrats in the Pentagon who don't want to be bothered."
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