The House Armed Services Committee today voted to allow the Department of Defense to ignore key environmental laws in its activities despite vigorous opposition from committee members and the public. The DOD is attempting to become exempt from having to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"The broad sweeping exemptions in this bill are unnecessary and would likely result in irreparable harm to the environment," said Randy Moorman of Earthjustice. "Moreover, Americans overwhelmingly believe that the federal government should comply with these important environmental laws." A recent Zogby poll found that an overwhelming 85 percent of Americans believe that the Defense Department should have to follow the same laws as everyone else.
"While we support US military efforts to prepare for military action and to protect national security, additional exemptions are not necessary to accomplish this goal," said Sandra Schubert of Earthjustice. "Many of these laws already have specific provisions that allow requests by the DOD for waivers in the interest of national security. We firmly believe no government should be above the law -- including the laws that protect America's wildlife and public lands. The federal government should lead by example, not exempt itself from the laws it requires others to abide by."
According to Earthjustice, changes allowing military exemptions were proposed by the DOD at the last minute, without sufficient consideration. Many public interest groups – including the National Governors' Association, the National Association of Attorneys General, and the National Conference of State Legislatures – were also denied the opportunity to testify at a hearing regarding DOD's environmental issues. Further, more than 100 US Representatives sent a letter opposing the environmental exemptions and the rushed process to Rep. Bob Stump, chair of the Armed Services Committee.
Among other damaging effects the legislation could have, the groups highlight destruction of endangered species' critical habitat and threats to migratory birds and their nests. The groups claim that this laundry list of exemptions is both damaging and entirely unnecessary.
"Like many members of the House, we support a process where all parties can work together on these issues to develop creative and collaborative solutions," said Moorman. "This requires that these proposals receive thoughtful consideration by the stakeholders and a proper hearing in the House and Senate. They should not be rushed thorugh at the last minute over tremendous objection from the public and their elected representatives."