DoD Claims Right To Pollute, Complains About “Encroachment”

Richard Hugus

April 27, 2002    

In April this year the people of Cape Cod, Massachusetts learned that yet another public water supply had been closed down due to contamination from the Massachusetts Military Reservation. The contamination was caused by perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel used in various munitions fired at the 15,000 acre area of the MMR known as Camp Edwards. Over a period of about fifteen years, the perchlorate had leached through the soil and travelled two miles with groundwater to wells in the northern part of the town of Bourne. These wells supplied 70% of the water for the town, which has a year-round population of 19,000 people. The remaining 30% of the town’s water supply come from wells in the southern part of Bourne, but these wells are threatened by another plume of contaminated groundwater from Otis Air Base. Beginning in 1979, Otis has contaminated one by one a large number of public and private wells in Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich – the four towns surrounding the base – with dumped solvents and fuels.

During the Cold War they used to say the Russians might attack by putting chemicals in public water supplies. Instead, the U.S. Army and Air Force were doing the job themselves, while claiming to protect us. This base has been a disaster for the entire region of western Cape Cod.

Imagine the surprise of area residents when, as they fought to get the Pentagon to pay for new water supplies for Bourne, they learned that the DoD had just drafted legislation for Congress which would allow it to continue a wide variety of military training activities – activities like the artillery and rocket firing proven to be harmful at Camp Edwards – by exempting DoD from key environmental regulations. The legislation is called  the “Sustainable Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Act.” It is also referred to as the “Encroachment legislation” because in the Act the DoD argues that elements in U.S. society are “encroaching” on its lands and training prerogatives. The legislation states that:

  in recent years, the expansion of state and federal environmental
  laws and regulations, along with population growth, economic
  development, increased land use, designation and expansion of
  conservation and recreational areas, and urban and suburban sprawl,
  among other factors, have significantly restricted the military's access
  to and use of military lands and training ranges, and limited its
  ability to engage in live-fire training;

  this phenomenon - known as "encroachment" - has markedly
  restricted the military's ability to train realistically and, unless
  checked, promises to produce further restrictions in the future”

People demanding clean drinking water are among those who have “encroached” on the military. In 1997, responding to citizen pressure, EPA issued an order which halted live-fire training at the Massachusetts Military Reservation in order to protect what remained of the region’s water supply. Subsequent studies then proved, in spite of Army denials,  that live fire training had contaminated the aquifer with both perchlorate and RDX, an explosive compound. The Pentagon’s response to this was to make a plea to Congress in March 2001, and submit legislation this year, not that it would stop training known to damage the environment, but that it should not be subject to laws which would prevent it from causing such damage.

This would be accomplished by a sleight of hand in the legislation in which a toxic release is re-defined by the Pentagon to exclude munitions. A definition attached to the end of the Act says:

The term ‘release,’ as used in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq., shall not include the presence, on a military range, of any explosives, munitions, munitions fragments, or constituents thereof that are or have been deposited incident to its normal and expected use”

 The military has tried to put out the fire on Cape Cod by co-opting local politicians and throwing major resources into public relations. A Major General R.L.VanAntwerp gave an amazing statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee a year ago -- March 2001 -- in which he said that “in order to maintain effective sustainable military operations and training, we must have community acceptance and support for military activities, including those military activities that affect public health and the environment.” From his point of view, then, contamination of public water supplies is acceptable, and health effects from drinking contaminated water must be made to seem acceptable to the public, so that the military can train. Amazingly, the General testified that the Pentagon’s strategy for bringing this about rested on two concepts which he defined as  “information dominance” and “outrage management.”

The military claims that it needs this new legislation because of the pressing needs of its new “war on terror.” Van Antwerp’s testimony shows that the Pentagon had created policy to limit environmental regulation well before September 11. Communities near military bases all over the country have had it proven to them over and over again: the DoD has quite other priorities than protecting the American public, who are merely “encroaching” on, or are getting in the way of, those priorities.

What are those priorities? Why, continued environmental destruction and the efficient killing of people everywhere else in the world, for the sake of empire. To this end, the Pentagon is fighting a war even more frightening than the war on terror -- it is waging war against the biosphere itself, against everything living.