Thursday, October 14, 2004

We Had to Poison the Village in Order to Protect It 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot K.Z.: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the Pentagon has claimed that it needs the capability to fight two wars simultaneously, and today it is doing just that. War #1, as you know, has not gone so well; the insurgents in Iraq have proven rather more formidable a foe than we might have hoped. By way of contrast, our military has met with surprisingly light resistance in its other war -- against an increasingly toothless Environmental Protection Agency. Here's part one of a two-part investigative series from USA Today:
Amy Ford's baby girl was just learning to crawl last year when men in respirators and hazardous materials suits showed up at the family's suburban home to tear out the yard.

Since then, workers have hauled away tons of asbestos-laced soil from the new development of $500,000 houses. The pollution is a vestige of Lowry Air Force Base, which closed in 1994 and was sold for $8 million to a redevelopment agency set up by the cities of Denver and Aurora. The 1,800-acre site now supports 2,800 homes, schools, shopping areas, offices and parks.

State health and environmental officials found bits of asbestos in the ground in 2003 and ordered that all contaminated soil be removed. They said that if the soil was disturbed — by gardening or by children playing, for example — the asbestos fibers might get into the air and raise residents' risks of debilitating lung problems.

But Air Force officials have refused to pay for the $15 million dig. They say the state used bad science to conclude that the risks from the asbestos were high enough to warrant a cleanup. That has left the redevelopment agency and builders to do the work and pay the bill. And the Air Force has done no cleanup at all on 22 vacant acres it still hasn't sold in the community . . . .

Lowry isn't the only neighborhood wrestling the military over environmental damage. Across the nation, the Pentagon is taking extraordinary steps to limit the military's accountability for a 50-year legacy of pollution, a USA TODAY investigation finds. The moves reflect a Bush administration view that the armed services' national security mission gives them special standing to challenge environmental laws and the state and federal agencies that enforce them.

About one in 10 Americans — nearly 29 million — live within 10 miles of a military site that is listed as a national priority for hazardous-waste cleanup under the federal Superfund program, a USA TODAY analysis shows. In all, the Defense Department is responsible for more than 10% of the 1,240 total sites listed for priority cleanup under the program, which aims to restore the nation's most polluted properties, both public and private.

Since 2001, Pentagon officials have stalled cleanups at scores of military sites where contamination from training and manufacturing has fouled soil and water. They've used their political clout to sidetrack new regulations that could force the services to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to deal with pollution. And they've challenged state and federal regulators' power to make the military obey existing environmental laws.

At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is backing off its oversight of the military. The agency is inspecting military sites less often and has cut the use of legal orders and fines to force the services to clean up pollution.

Now the administration is pushing Congress to exempt millions of acres of military land from major environmental requirements. Four years after President Bush campaigned on a pledge to make the military "comply with environmental laws by which all of us must live," the White House is the Pentagon's chief ally in pushing for relief from such laws.

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