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Public Statements

Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support Holds Hearing on Military Environmental Legislative Proposals

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

PRYOR:

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    One thing that I need to disclose on the front end is that I'm new to this committee, and I'm trying to get a handle on just how widespread the problem is and certainly I've talked to some of you all individually and privately about this issue. And I've talked to a few senators individually and privately about this issue. And you've brought in this example of Fort Bragg.
    And the question I have for you with regard to Fort Bragg, is -- are you telling the committee that Fort Bragg is representative of the problem? In other words, do all of your forts like that and all of your installations like that have these environmental problems or these concerns?

KEANE (?):

    Fort Bragg is an interesting demonstration and that's why I brought it forward. Because it's representative of how much management has to take place on 130,000 acres of land to manage an endangered species which is there, in the case of the animal is the red cacada (ph) woodpecker and the five endangered plants that they have.

    But the flip side of that is its also an area where for the last six or seven years using the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service management policy, or INRMP (ph), which is what Senator Akaka (ph) referred to, that we've been able to mitigate a lot of those challenges as well. So what Fort Bragg represents is the scale of the magnitude of the problem and also an attempt on the part of the U. S. Fish and Wild Service to work with us to mitigate those challenges.

    Now what's thrown a wedge into that is this lawsuit in Arizona, which would put us back to ground zero in a sense. And it would force Fort Bragg to be declared a critical habitat and no longer managed using INRMP (ph) which would mean less restrictive policy.

    And that's the concern that we have because the current law does not protect us from that assault that was just made and the judicial finding that occurred.

    So that's our challenge. And there are other places where we have a critical habituate designated, and there is no management policy from Fish and Wildlife that we're able to use as an effective tool. And when we have something like that, we have huge restrictions. For example, at the Pula Halacola (ph) Range in Hawaii, we have a critical habitat that was declared there for a plant. We built the $25 million range that we have yet to use because it was set aside as a critical habitat for the plant that's there and given the prevalence of the plant, we're not able to use the range and also maintain the plant.

    So there's a $25 million range going unused. There are -- the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing in Hawaii 147 different plant life that they want to designate as critical habitats. If that's designated as a critical habitat and we're not able to manage it under the INRMP, which Senator Akaka referred to, that's going to shut us down. That will shut us down.

    So those are the challenges that we're facing as it comes to the endangered species and this legislative -- excuse me, this lawsuit that just took place, jeopardizes the flexibility the Fish and Wildlife has been able to work with us for the next -- for the last six or seven years.

PRYOR:

    Now, and I apologize that I'm unfamiliar with the details of the lawsuit...

(UNKNOWN)

    Sure.

PRYOR:

    ... but I will certainly educate myself on that. Sounds like that's at the federal district court level. Do you know, Mr. Chairman, is that right? Has that been appealed to the circuit? Has it been appealed to the circuit court level yet?

ENSIGN:

    We don't believe so.

PRYOR:

    OK, all right. Well, I can find out about that and sort of educate myself on that.

    I will say this that I've heard some senators discuss privately without revealing their names, but I've heard some senators discuss privately a concern that your request for exemption may be just a little too broad.

    And it may have the unintended consequences of just being too broad and causing some long-term damage to the environment. And I think that Senator Clinton really alluded to that without saying it exactly that way, that we're trying to find that balance here. We certainly understand the needs of the military.

    We also want to take into consideration you know, the desire to have the best possible environment here in the United States. And you know, we just need to try to continue to work on that. And I know that's what you're here doing is presenting your case to the committee today.

    Let me ask this one last question with all of that mind. Would you all object to say a pilot project at Fort Bragg -- or you can pick whatever location you want -- allow you to have the exemption that you're requesting just for the one facility and let that run for a couple of years and then you come back in, we can evaluate it. And we can determine, you know, lessons learned from that and possibly extend that to other locations. Or would you like the more global exemptions?

KEANE (?):

    Well, my reaction to that as it pertains to the endangered species the fact that Fish and Wildlife entered into an agreement with us that permitted flexibility and relaxations of some of the critical habitat designation rules, that's already been effect for six or seven years.

    And what our concern is that because of this lawsuit, we'll lose that flexibility. So it already exists out there at least on six Army installations, which I would think we would be more than happy to show the committee of details of what that flexibility has allowed us to do.

    The other threat that we feel is with this lawsuit in Eagle River Flats in Alaska. Right now we're shooting our ammunition, live ammunition on 400 impact areas around the United States and overseas. And if this lawsuit wins, obviously that ammunition would be declared a solid waste or hazardous waste and would have to be managed as such, which would effectively shut us down.

    So yes, in a sense, we want to codify that that ammunition that we're going to shoot in a designated impact area that the Congress of the United States has provided to us, we want an exemption that that is not in fact solid waste or hazardous waste.

    But that doesn't mean for a minute that would not be liable to be examined in terms of munitions that would harm an aquifer below it or any water supply of the American people.

    There is nobody here or any representative of the Department of Defense that would stand for the water supply of Americans being endangered. We're not going to put up with that.

    And we would make dramatic changes to make certain that that does not happen. The exemption that we're seeking would not preclude us from that oversight. Or if the munitions were a runoff of the reservation itself, which could possibly happen and maybe part of the concern of Eagle River Flats we would still have oversight of that function as well.

    And if we shut down a range and -- on our own accord, it would not be in the exemption status any more.

    So I think what I'm saying to you is that, yes, there's a lot to work with here. And in terms of the department of defense and our attitude toward this, and our desire to work with the committee to find a way here to keep both of these entities going the way they should, national defense and protecting the environment. We think we can make it work.

PRYOR:

    Mr. Chairman, that's all I have and I look forward to working with you as we try to resolve this.

PRYOR:

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Really only have one question and that is for General Nyland. I know that some of your written comments related to the Endangered Species Act and I know that's a real challenge for your branch to try to work around and work through all of those issues. And it sounds like you and the DOD have just gone above and beyond in many cases to try to accommodate and work with that.

    As I understand it, and again, I'm new to this committee, but as I understand it, there has been a three factor test that you've used with regard to endangered species. And it may not -- it may be slightly or somewhat cumbersome, but it has seemed to work you know, fairly well. I'm sure with a few bumps in the road, there always seems to be.

    But would -- would codifying that three factor test -- seems like that would give you certainty. It would give you sort of some familiarity with the process. And it would allow you all to function and accomplish your mission. Is that something that you could support?

NYLAND:

    Yes, sir. And in fact, the second phase of that quantification study at Camp Pendleton which is designed to show the ability of the installation to support training will end within the next 30 days or six weeks. We have every intent over the next two years to take what we've learned from that and add it to a new range management system that we have instituted down at Quantico to be able to not only identify how our training goes against our individual skills and our metals, but also to quantify the impact due to any kind of encroachment.

    So we certainly hope that we will be able to have that data collected by the end of April and then start towards probably a two year period to implement this and then have that available to us at all times.

PRYOR:

    Thank you.

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