2002 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 and for migratory birds. However, military officials contend that protecting these species and complying with environmental laws hampers military readiness activities.
According to an April 2002 poll, some 85 percent of registered U.S. voters believe that government agencies, including the Defense Department, should have to follow the same 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 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Superfund. During consideration of H.R. 4546, the defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee rejected many of these requests but inserted provisions exempting the military from the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
These exemptions would eliminate vital protection for more than 300 federally listed threatened and endangered species living on Defense Department lands. They would also allow the Defense Department to kill migratory birds and destroy their nesting areas in the name of "military readiness activities," without any oversight, accountability or assessment of biological impacts. These exemptions are not only harmful but also unnecessary. For example, 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.
The House bill also included a provision to reduce protections for pristine Utah wilderness lands administered by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, allowing the Defense Department to build roads, close public access and deny water rights necessary to protect wildlife. Still another provision would override California state law to allow a four-lane toll road to be constructed through California's San Onofre State Beach Park.
To make matters worse, the rule for debate of the bill prohibited Representatives Nick Rahall (D-WV), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) from introducing their proposed amendments on the House floor to strike the environmental exemptions. As a result, the vote on this particular rule became a de facto vote on the bill's environmental merits. On May 9, 2002, the House narrowly approved the rule by a vote of 216-200 (House roll call vote 136). NO is the pro-environment vote. The House then approved the authorizing bill by a 359-58 vote. The Senate defense authorization bill did not exempt the military from any environmental laws. At press time, the House and Senate had not come to agreement on the bill.