14. THE U.S. MILITARY'S TOXIC LEGACY TO AMERICA
While a generation of new laws and a growing environmental consciousness
are slowly causing private industry to become concerned about the environment,
we are discovering that the U.S. Department of Defense is America's most pervasive
and protected polluter.
As stringent military budgets and the sudden costs
of the mideast intrusion buffet the military planners, the United States must
now confront an exceptionally expensive post cold-war toxic cleanup.
military's 871 domestic installations, strung across 25 million acres of land,
produce more tons of hazardous waste each year than the top five U.S. chemical
companies combined. Nowhere in this country is the Pentagon's environmental nightmare
more vivid than at the Army's Jefferson Proving Ground in southern Indiana. Since
1941, workers have test-fired 23 million artillery, mortar, and tank rounds across
90 square miles of forests and meadows. An estimated 1.4 million of those test
rounds have not exploded - yet. The result is a 90-squaremile wasteland armored
with deadly debris. Jefferson is on the Pentagon's closure list, and while shutting
down the range will save the pentagon $7 million a year, the cleanup costs will
run into the billions.
A curious double standard has permitted the Pentagon
to ignore the environmental regulations that are beginning to solve problems in
private industry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot file civil
suits against other federal departments to enforce its regulations. The Justice
Department, which would bring any action on EPA's behalf, says the Constitution
precludes such suits. It insists that the EPA rely on voluntary agreements with
other federal agencies. With the Pentagon already besieged with financial problems,
asking it to voluntarily negotiate toxic cleanup could take years.
is that cities and states, which must comply with federal standards at their own
sewage and waste sites, have limited recourse when Uncle Sam pollutes. The tug
of war between environmental and economic concerns will grow more tense. Further,
the term cleanup itself is a misnomer. While the worst military toxic sites might
eventually be suitable for limited surface uses, they will never be completely
safe. And with the Justice Department and the EPA not helping out, the Pentagon
can take as long as they want.
The military toxic waste issue has been nominated
before and although this nomination appeared in a national newsweekly, it is felt
that the continuing enormity of the problem, coupled with its limited coverage
elsewhere, still qualifies it as an undercovered story.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER:
SOURCE: NEWSWEEK, 444 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022
TITLE: "The Military's Toxic Legacy"
AUTHORS: BILL TURQUE and JOHN McCORMICK
COMMENTS: The military's toxic waste issue has been nominated
several times in the past and in 1986 the story focused on Tinker Air
Force Base, near Oklahoma City. It explained how, for more than a decade,
Tinker AFB had illegally discharged untreated cancer-causing chemicals
into public waters, despite reprimands by the state, the Environmental
Protection Agency, the General Accounting Office, and, incredibly, the
Air Force itself. We concluded that year's synopsis with the following
warning: "While Tinker exemplifies the Pentagon's toxic waste problem,
nobody knows the full extent of the problem nationwide and the military
doesn't really know what to do except to conduct more studies. The Air
Force has hired several military contractors to clean up its toxic sites;
ironically, all of them are major toxic polluters themselves."
year's synopsis points out, although the 1990 story appeared in a national newsweekly,
it still qualified as an undercovered story because of the extraordinary national
scope of the problem and the limited coverage it received elsewhere. As the 1986
synopsis warned, it appears that little has been done to remedy the military's
toxic waste problem since. The Newsweek authors, Bill Turque and John McCormick,
noted that the story has received fragmentary attention with bits and pieces of
it appearing in the regional press. And, while there has been extensive attention
given to the Department of Energy's pollution problems, "the Pentagon's slovenly
environmental record has been a largely untold story." Not surprisingly,
the principal beneficiaries of the limited exposure given the story is the Pentagon
"as well as the giant military contractors who often pollute under the color
of their work for the Department of Defense. The authors feel it is important
for the public to be aware of this problem since the Pentagon owns millions of
acres of land in this country and "Its stewardship of that land is a story
that touches thousands of communities."