| NEWS ADVISORY -- August 21, 2003
WASHINGTON DC -- An eight-month struggle over whether America’s military will receive special exemptions from public health and environmental laws will finally be resolved in September. A House-Senate conference committee plans to finalize its work on the Fiscal Year 2004 Defense Authorization bill shortly after Labor Day. The committee will decide the fate of proposed sweeping new exemptions from critical provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) covering tens of thousands of acres of military lands and waters and broad areas of military activities, along with a special rider that would jeopardize the San Pedro River National Conservation Area in Arizona. Senators McCain and Levin are key conferees who will help craft the final bill.
The conferees must resolve differences between the Defense Authorization bills passed by the House and Senate, including serious differences on military environmental exemptions. The House bill includes virtually blank-check exemptions for the Department of Defense (DOD) from the ESA and MMPA, along with a special rider exempting Fort Huachuca in Arizona from water conservation requirements.
The Senate rejected DOD’s proposal for a blanket exemption from the Endangered Species Act, instead adopting a bipartisan amendment allowing case-by-case ESA exemptions if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines that they are warranted. The Senate also opted to leave proposed changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act out of the Defense Authorization bill, and allow the Commerce Committee which is already working on a complete reauthorization of the MMPA to consider DOD’s proposals in the context of other possible changes to the law.
A major struggle is brewing in Washington, with key Republican leaders in the House fighting to keep their blank-check exemptions instead of the Senate’s more reasonable bipartisan proposal.
RECENT EVENTS CONFIRM THE SENATE’S WISDOM
Recent events have confirmed that the Senate’s more reasonable approach is the best way to ensure military training while protecting our health and environment.
BACKGROUND ON THE HOUSE AND SENATE LANGUAGE
Arizona Representative Rick Renzi attached a rider to the House Defense Authorization bill, exempting the DOD from any responsibility for off-base water use including “irrigation and landscaping” caused by the Fort’s presence and activities. The rider seeks to undercut a cooperative water conservation agreement reached last year between the base and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and supported by local environmentalists. If the rider passes, the San Pedro River -- designated by Congress as a National Conservation Area because of its unique biodiversity -- will almost certainly die.
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
The House bill would issue a blank check to DOD, allowing the Pentagon to substitute its own Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans which are often never funded or implemented for the designation of critical habitat to ensure the survival of endangered species on military lands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already found INRMPs to be inadequate to protect endangered species, and already has and consistently uses the authority to tailor critical habitat designations in deference to military training.
The Senate adopted a bipartisan amendment to allow the DOD to substitute its INRMPs for critical habitat designation, but only if the plans are reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the agency’s director certifies that they will in fact protect wildlife, and that there are adequate guarantees that the provisions will be funded and implemented.
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)
The Senate has already agreed that any changes to the MMPA should occur in the committee of jurisdiction the Commerce Committee where members and staff are most knowledgeable about the MMPA and can consider any changes in context. However, the House adopted DOD’s proposed wholesale MMPA exemption, which seeks to allow the Pentagon to avoid review of its actions by other agencies and attempts to exempt the military from existing restrictions that state that any killing or injuring of marine mammals must be limited to small numbers in a specific geographic area.