15. U.S. Military’s War on the Earth

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DOLLARS & SENSE, March/April, 2003
Title: “War on Earth”
Author: Bob Feldman

Title: “Disobeying Orders”
Author: David S. Mann and Glenn Milner

WILD MATTERS, October 2002
Title: “Military Dumping”
Author: John Passacantando

Faculty Evaluators: Bill Crowley Ph.D., Mary Gomes Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Jen Scanlan, Grayson Kent

The U.S. military is waging a war on planet Earth. “Homeland security” has become the new mantra since September 11, 2001, and has been the justification for increasing U.S. military expansion around the world. Part of this campaign has been the varied and persistent appeals by the Pentagon to Congress for exemptions from a range of environmental regulations and wildlife treaties.

The world’s largest polluter, the U.S. military, generates 750,000 tons of toxic waste material annually, more than the five largest chemical companies in the U.S. combined. This pollution occurs globally as the U.S. maintains bases in dozens countries. In the U.S. there are 27,000 toxic hot spots on 8,500 military properties inside Washington’s Fairchild Air Force Base is the number one producer of hazardous waste, generating over 13 million pounds of waste in 1997. Not only is the military emitting toxic material directly into the air and water, it’s poisoning the land of nearby communities resulting in increased rates of cancer, kidney disease, increasing birth defects, low birth weight, and miscarriage.

The military currently manages 25 million acres of land providing habitat for some 300 threatened or endangered species. Groups such as Defenders of Wildlife have sued the military for damage done to endangered animal populations by bomb tests. The testing of Low-Frequency Sonar technology is accused of having played a role in the stranding death of whales around the world.

Rather than working to remedy these problems, the pentagon claims that the burden of regulations is undercutting troop readiness. The Pentagon already operates military bases in and outside of the U.S. as “federal reservations” which fall outside of normal regulation. Yet the DOD is seeking further exemptions in congress from the Migratory Bird Treaties Act, the Wildlife Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Pentagon now employs 10,000 people with an annual budget of 2 billion dollars to deal with the legalities that arise from the Military’s toxic droppings. New Justice Department policies frustrate attempts by the public to obtain knowledge. In one case the U.S. Navy demanded $1500 for the release of documents related to compliance with environmental laws at the Trident nuclear submarine base in the Puget Sound. Other requests are simply not processed and attempts at legal countermeasures are thwarted. The Pentagon has also won reductions in military whistleblower protection laws. These measures disregard the Freedom of Information Act and obstruct the notion of a Democratic State.

UPDATE BY AUTHORS DAVID S. MANN AND GLEN MILNER: Since our article appeared in the Washington Free Press in September 2002 there have been numerous attempts by the U.S. military and the Bush administration to secure military exemptions from environmental law. In a rare defeat, the Pentagon failed in 2002 to win concessions from Congress for exemptions from the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and other environmental laws.

A December 10, 2002 document, Sustainable Ranges 2003 Decision Briefing to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, unleashed a three year campaign to systematically exempt all U.S. military activity from every perceived environmental restriction. Included in the briefing is a “2002 Lessons Learned” section, citing the need for better quantification of encroachment impacts and a sustained aggressive campaign addressing concerns of the GAO and Congress. Other targeted critics are state attorneys general, media, industry and Non-Governmental Organizations.

In a March 7, 2003 memo, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asked the Army, Navy and Air Force secretaries for examples of military readiness hindered by compliance to environmental law. Even though current law has never been used, allowing the President to invoke environmental exemptions deemed necessary for national defense.

Other attempts for environmental exemption for the military have been less than obvious. An April 2003 proposal by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, “The Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act”, suspended whistleblower protections for Department of Defense personnel. In another, an executive order from President Bush is being considered establishing the Department of Defense as the first among equals in any disagreement between agencies. Added to this are new restrictions on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and a reduced budget for the Environmental Protection Agency for FY 2004.

Efforts for environmental justice continue. In the Pacific Northwest, we have begun a mix of public education and legal action concerning the U.S. Navy and environmental compliance. We have found that coalitions of long-time “peace” and “environmental” organizations make effective action groups.

In March 2001, two environmental organizations and three peace organizations filed a 60 Day Notice against the Navy’s Trident II (D-5) missile upgrade at the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, Washington. The case, by David Mann, is now in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals with a decision expected in Fall 2003.

Two other lawsuits involving David Mann and Glen Milner and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have gone to court. In the first, filed in April 2002, concerning explosive Trident rocket motor shipments, the Navy conceded it had lost the case. The Navy then paid attorney fees and reclassified the documents exempt under national security. This case and another filed in March 2003, involving accident assessments for explosive material at the Bangor submarine base, are still pending.

In December 2002, a FOIA request by Glen Milner revealed the Navy has been firing 20mm depleted uranium rounds into prime fishing waters off the coast of Washington State during routine calibration and testing of the Navy’s Close-In Weapons System (CIWS). Numerous FOIA requests have shown the Navy is not in compliance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing agreements. A preliminary complaint has been filed with the NRC. Our goal is a NEPA lawsuit and injunction against the Navy over the firing of depleted uranium rounds into U.S. waters.

For information on our lawsuit against the U.S. Navy visit www.gzcenter.org. Organizations involved are Waste Action Project, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Peace and Justice Alliance, all based in Seattle, Washington; Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, Washington; and Cascadia Wildlands Project in Eugene, Oregon.

UPDATE BY BOB FELDMAN: Despite the increased size of recent anti-war protests around the globe, the Pentagon’s “war on the earth” still continues. Since the story was published, a new wave of environmental destruction in Iraq was produced by the U.S. war machine’s March and April 2003 missile attacks and its bombardment, invasion and occupation of that country.

A report on Iraq of the United Nations Environmental Program [UNEP]’s Post-Conflict Assessment Unit noted that the heavy Pentagon bombing and the movement of large numbers of Pentagon military vehicles and troops in Iraq “further degraded natural and agricultural ecosystems.”

The UNEP Post-Conflict Assessment Unit report also observed that the Pentagon’s intensive use of Depleted Uranium [DU] weapons. Significant levels of radioactive contamination were found at four sites in Baghdad in May 2003, by Christian Science Monitor reporter Scott Peterson (CSM, 5/15/03). Much of this radioactive contamination was likely produced by the DU bullets fired into the center of Baghdad at the Iraqi Ministry of Planning by the Pentagon’s A-10 Warhog aircraft, Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles. According to the Monitor, Pentagon figures indicate that about 250,000 DU bullets were fired by A-10 Warhog aircraft in March and April 2003, leaving an estimated additional 75 tons of DU in Iraq, as a result of the Pentagon’s attack.

Local air pollution and soil contamination in Iraq also increased, as a result of the recent war. The Pentagon’s bombing of Baghdad, for instance, ignited fires which toxic, black smoke that contained dangerous chemicals, which caused harm to Iraqi children and to Iraqi adults with respiratory problems, and further polluted Iraqi ecosystems.

The mainstream press showed no interest in Dollars & Sense’s “War on the Earth” story. But U.S. alternative media outlets responded with some interest. WMBR-Cambridge’s “No Censorship Radio” invited me to appear on its weekly show to talk about the “War On The Earth” article, as did a producer at the Making Contact radio show. Alternet’s environmental editor selected this D&S article for posting on the Alternet web site and there was some mention in the Utne Reader.

The impact of the article among green/anti-war readers was due, I think, in large part to the Dollars & Sense magazine editors’ decision to use maps to visually reflect the domestic and global extent of the Pentagon’s pollution activity. Also, the article initially appeared just a few days before the U.S. Warfare State launched its attack on Iraq. So the article’s implied argument, that to be a friend of the Earth a green activist must also mobilize against U.S. global militarism, probably seemed like an historically timely one.

Since the article appeared in Dollars & Sense, the U.S. Navy – in response to years of protest – has finally closed its base on Puerto Rico’s Isla de Vieques. But the environmentally destructive target practice that the U.S. Navy used to do on the Isla de Vieques has been transferred to Florida.

To both get more information contact the Military Toxics Project, P.O. Box 558, Lewiston, ME 04243; call 207-783-5091; http://www.miltoxproj.org or e-mail steve@miltoxproj.org . Seth Shulman’s early 1990s book, “The Threat At Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military,” also contains information about the Pentagon’s “War on the Earth” within the US’s borders.