Army Suspends Environmental Safeguards

Army garrison commanders worldwide are being told to drop some environmental protections and cut all temporary employees so the savings can be shifted elsewhere because of the War on Terror (search).

An environmental group says some of the programs affected by the changes reduce aircraft collisions with birds, control non-native species and affect how hazardous waste is handled.

According to a May 11 memo obtained by The Associated Press, Army Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland wrote that the Army will now "take additional risk in environmental programs; terminate environmental contracts and delay all non-statutory enforcement actions" until after the new fiscal year begins in October.

Aadland, head of the Army's new Installation Management Activity (search) command, also told commanders to make additional cost-saving changes that affect areas besides environmental programs and temporary employees. Aadland ordered a hiring freeze.

Officials can divert the savings from the changes to other efforts, he wrote, but was not specific about which programs the money should be diverted to.

However, he told commanders, "All of you must implement these actions now and ensure resources are best used to support the war effort."

Pentagon (search) spokesman Glenn Flood referred all questions to an Army spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, who did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday.

The Pentagon spends $4 billion on military environmental programs each year, says Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense installations and environment.

An environmental group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (search), said the Pentagon is irresponsibly ordering severe cuts in spending on programs that reduce pollution and protect wildlife.

"This is an order to base commanders authorizing pollution of American soil when it saves money," PEER's executive director, Jeff Ruch, said of Aadland's use of the phrase 'take additional risk.'

"Protecting America's land, air and water is not a secondary mission that should be shirked when budgets get tight," Ruch said.

Ruch said his group has been told by Army environmental specialists that the programs to be cut also include those for protecting endangered species, disposing of munitions in open-air burning and monitoring groundwater.

According to the memo, Aadland also ordered these cost-saving measures: halting summer hire programs, reducing supply orders and service contracts and a 10-percent cut in spending on information technology.

In the last two years, Congress has agreed to five of eight Pentagon requests to ease environmental requirements. The department and the Environmental Protection Agency (search) are trying to make the remaining three requests more palatable to lawmakers.

Congress has approved the Pentagon's requests to ease requirements for designating critical habitat and a lower threshold for what can be considered "harassment" of a marine mammal.

Now, the Pentagon wants the Clean Air Act (search) amended so any extra air pollution from training exercises wouldn't count for three years in states' plans for meeting federal requirements. It also is seeking changes that would let the military avoid cleaning up land of munitions used for normal purposes on operational ranges.