Washington, DC — Military training at U.S. Army facilities is in “potential jeopardy” due to severe reductions in its resource protection programs, according to a memo from the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Deep cuts in environmental projects leaves the bases open to legal actions that could “shut down all training operations.”
In a September 24th memo, Major General Larry Gottardi warns that, in the fiscal year that just begun and in future years, Army resource management funding will drop by more than a third. His memo stated —
- Environmental projects are “considered optional” and, as a consequence, are not funded;
- The lack of “visibility of the installation [environmental] funding submissions” allows the funds to be diverted in a way that is difficult to monitor from the outside; and
- Over the past three years, Congress has granted the Pentagon exemptions from environmental laws on the basis that the military’s own environmental programs were comparable to those of civilian resource agencies. Now that the exemptions have been granted, those military programs are being cut.
“As both a matter of law and moral responsibility, the Army cannot shirk its duty to defend the lands and wildlife entrusted to its care,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Army bases cover some 11.8 million acres in the domestic U.S., an area approximately the combined size of Vermont and New Hampshire, and contain some of the most critical wildlife habitat in the nation. “The Pentagon is practicing bait and switch tactics by baiting Congress to exempt the military from environmental protection laws and then switching away the money that was used to justify the exemptions.”
In an accompanying May 17th memo, the Installation Management Agency cites 38 needed environmental projects on Army Reserve lands were cut because they were no longer classified as “must funds.” That memo lists “soil sustainment, invasive species, prescribed burning, wetlands management,” as well as an array of wildlife habitat projects among the high-priority items that need funding.
These latest cuts echo an episode that occurred four months earlier. On May 11, citing mid-year fiscal shortages due to “fighting a war on several fronts,” Major General Anders Aadland, head of the Installation Management Agency, sent a memo to garrison commanders ordering immediate cutbacks in “discretionary” spending on items including personnel, travel and training, as well as the environment. Gen. Aadland issued an order to base commanders to “Take additional risk in environmental programs; terminate environmental contracts and delay all non-statutory enforcement actions to FY05.”
One day after PEER released a copy of Gen. Aadland’s directive, the Army issued a new order on May 27 countermanding it. Gen. Aadland, however, adamantly denied any connection between PEER’s exposé and the sudden reversal: “It was the Army’s conscience, not media pressure that put the environmental program back on track.”
“Did the Army have to de-fund its conscience, too?” asked Ruch, pointing out that the cuts restored in May were simply shifted to October. “The Army’s own people are desperately trying to explain why these environmental programs are absolutely necessary for a ‘sustainable’ training program that is supposed to continue for decades without sacrificing the natural assets that make these lands so important.”