2003 Scorecard Vote
The 25 million acres of land owned and operated by the Defense Department provide important habitat for hundreds of endangered and threatened species. However, military officials contend that protecting these species and complying with environmental laws hampers military readiness activities.
According to a May 2003 national poll, taken after the Iraq war had begun, more than four out of five likely voters believe government agencies, including the Defense Department, should have to follow the same environmental and public health laws as everyone else. Nevertheless, the department proposed that Congress grant it sweeping exemptions from some of the nation's most important environmental and public health laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Superfund.
During consideration of S. 1050, the defense authorization bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected many of these requests but inserted a provision exempting the military from habitat protection provisions of the Endangered Species Act when the lands in question are covered by an integrated natural resources management plan. Because such plans are often underfunded and ineffective, this exemption would remove a vital safety net for more than 300 threatened and endangered species living on Defense Department lands. Environmentalists also pointed out that the proposed exemption was unnecessary since, under the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of Defense already has the authority to waive regulations on a case-by-case basis in the interest of national security.
In response to the proposed exemption, Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have required the Interior Secretary to assure that the lands in questions were adequately protected before the Endangered Species Act could be waived. On May 21, 2003, the Senate approved the amendment by a 58-41 vote (Senate roll call vote 190). YES is the pro-environment vote. The Senate then approved the authorization bill. However, when the bill went to House-Senate conference, Republican leaders, including Senator John Warner (R-VA) and Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), succeeded in removing the Senate's bipartisan language and adding broad military exemptions from both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The final bill was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.