Pentagon Restructures Environmental Strategy

WASHINGTON, DC, December 15, 2004 (ENS) - Without public debate or Congressional review, the Pentagon is moving reduce its environmental duties, according to a draft directive that cancels a 1996 Clinton-era policy ensuring that environmental factors are integrated into Defense Department decisionmaking processes that may impact the environment. But at the same time, the Pentagon has a new procurement policy, and is urging employees and military to "buy green."

The draft Department of Defense (DoD) directive, issued October 18, removes the requirement to prevent pollution and minimize adverse environmental impacts, or do anything that does not directly “sustain the national defense mission.”

By its terms, this directive covers all “DoD operations, activities, and installations worldwide, including Government-owned/contractor-operated facilities.”

The new directive would eliminate provisions that now exist such as,“Reducing risk to human health and the environment by identifying, evaluating, and where necessary, remediating contamination resulting from past DoD activities.”

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U.S. Marines race through the sand of the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands beach on Kauai, Hawaii, following a landing in amphibious assault vehicles during the Pacific Rim military exercises RIMPAC '96. (Photo courtesy DoD)
No longer would the Armed Forces be engaged in "Protecting, preserving, and, when required, restoring, and enhancing the quality of the environment,” as the 1996 directive mandates.

“The Pentagon is transforming itself into an entity concerned only about its own logistics and facility management – and the public be damned,” said attorney Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national alliance of federal, state and local resources personnel which released the draft directive Tuesday. “Under this new policy, who will protect America’s waters, air and soil from the Pentagon?"

The Department of Defense manages 30 million acres of land, making it the third largest land management agency in the United States. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages 11 million acres of water and related lands at over 500 water resources projects across the nation.

The new directive would drop requirements that the Defense Department obey “regulations, Executive orders, binding international agreements” and other federal “environmental, safety, occupational health, explosives safety, fire and emergency services, and pest management policies.”

Instead, the Pentagon would pledge only to abide by “applicable law and DoD policy.”

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Excavation of a leaking underground gasoline storage tank at the U.S. Army's Fort Bragg, California. (Photo courtesy Fort Bragg)
The new directive says that the Pentagon “will evaluate all activities…and make prudent investments in initiatives that support mission accomplishment, enhance readiness, reduce future funding needs, prevent pollution, ensure cost effective compliance, and maximize the existing resource capability.”

The day after the Pentagon issued its draft directive, the U.S. Army announced a new environmental strategy. None of the other armed forces has issued a separate environmental strategy document.

Entitled “The Army Strategy for the Environment: Sustain the Mission, Secure the Future,” the document "transitions the Army’s compliance-based environmental program to a mission-oriented approach based on the principles of sustainability," the Army said in a statement.

“We have learned over the past decades that simply complying with environmental regulations will not ensure that we will be able to sustain our mission,” said Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee and Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker in a joint letter released with the strategy.

Six goals are outlined in the Army's strategy:

“This is a long-term commitment to radically change the way we design, build, buy, transport, and otherwise perform our mission, as we transform our weapons systems, tactics, and installations over the coming decades,” said Ray Fatz, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for environment, safety and occupational health.

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Ray Fatz became the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for environment, safety and occupational Health on August 18, 1996 (Photo courtesy DoD)
The new strategy, "requires radical changes in almost all of the core business processes the Army performs today," Fatz said.

During the same week, the Defense Department announced a new environmentally related procurement policy for all branches of the armed forces.

The new "green procurement" policy requires the department's civilian and military personnel to purchase products and services that benefit the environment, said Alex Beehler, the DoD's chief of environmental safety and occupational health, in an October 21 interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

He said that recycled office supplies and lubricants and biomass produced energy are among the types of purchases the policy requires.

Beehler said the green procurement policy is the latest endeavor by the Pentagon "to forge its reputation as being a good environmental steward." That reputation, he said, stretches back some 30 years and includes myriad DoD recycling programs.

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Recycling cabinet at the Pentagon (Photo courtesy DoD)
The first recycling policy developed by DoD was under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's first term in 1976. Like that policy then, Beehler said, this new policy is "intrinsically the right thing to do."

"It's the right thing to do toward our environment, toward the mission, toward making the lives of our civilian and military employees and families much better by having a safer, better Earth."

Beehler said there is no requirement under the policy to purchase green products that "cost more, are scarce, or have other limitations." Consideration should be given to those items that over the long term would produce more cost savings or improved efficiency, he said.

The Pentagon will provide training to help those directly involved in the purchasing process identify green procurement items.

The training also will help raise the awareness of procurers to buy green, he added, "so that it becomes incorporated into their daily operations to look at pursuing green procurement opportunities wherever they realistically exist."

The department plans to develop a catalog that will show DoD procurement officers and employees where they can find and purchase green products, he said.

Beehler said for now, the DoD is focusing on implementing the new policy, not enforcing it. But in the future the Pentagon plans an environmental management system that will monitor compliance through "environmental audits and environmental contracting to make sure that the policy is successfully implemented," he added.

Beehler said the time has come "to go beyond environmental compliance," and that the focus now should be on "improving the environment rather than just protecting it."

The new policy, he said, "will empower each individual to have a vital stake in improving the environment."