Regarding your editorial "Keep the Pentagon Green" (May 2): Our military's environmental record is one of remarkable achievement. Hundreds of contaminated sites have been cleaned up, natural and cultural resources have been preserved and restored, regulatory violations have been reduced dramatically, and hazardous wastes have been trimmed by more than 50 percent.
Against this backdrop, the Department of Defense has requested clarifications and improvements to the administration of six environmental laws. These narrowly focused revisions, called the Readiness and Range Protection Initiative, aim to preserve the ability to use the natural assets, which the nation has dedicated to military training for the purpose of preparing America's sons and daughters for the rigors of combat.
The need for these reforms is nowhere better illustrated than at the base cited in your editorial, Camp Pendleton near San Diego. In response to a lawsuit, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating more than 57 percent of Camp Pendleton's 125,000 acres as critical habitat for the endangered California gnat-catcher. This designation, coupled with the existing restrictions at Camp Pendleton, would have rendered this base virtually unusable for realistic combat training. Ultimately, the Clinton administration decided not to designate new critical habitat at Pendleton a decision currently being challenged in court.
The Defense Department proposal would protect that decision from challenge by providing that, instead of "critical habitat" designation, endangered species on military reservations would be protected through Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans (INRMPs), which are developed in close cooperation with the Department of the Interior and state authorities.
Under previous administrations, the Fish and Wildlife Service viewed INRMPs as a superior tool for protection of biodiversity interests on military reservations, but the Endangered Species Act may not provide the flexibility to implement this approach. So, this administration has proposed a modest, targeted reform of the act to accomplish this beneficial result. To cite this as an "exemption" from the Endangered Species Act is simply false.
The Pentagon also has no plans to divert environmental funding elsewhere. In fact, President Bush has requested $153 million more than he did last year for a total of $4.1 billion for Defense Environmental Programs.
Our proposal targets only those laws that would prohibit realistic combat training. In some cases, we seek to clarify the application of laws which the Congress never intended should prohibit military training, like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
With the appropriate legal and administrative framework, the goals of environmental protection and realistic military training can be reconciled and can be made mutually supportive. The Readiness and Range Protection Initiative does nothing more, and nothing less, than establish that framework for the 21st Century. It deserves the support of all thoughtful Americans.
Raymond F. DuBois Jr. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment
Correction: The column by Godfrey Sperling on May 14, "Soundings from Lieberman on running for president," misstated the timing of a Monitor breakfast with Vice President Humphrey. That breakfast took place Jan. 18, 1968.
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