Washington, DC--A top Environmental Protection Agency official endorsed Pentagon pollution exemption proposals in congressional testimony without disclosing serious objections raised by his own staff, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). John P. Suarez, head of EPA's Office of Enforcement & Compliance Assurance, testified before House and Senate committees that Pentagon rewrites of hazardous waste laws were "narrowly tailored" and "appropriate" while his own staff's analysis submitted to the President's Office of Management and Budget raised major public health concerns and attacked the plans as unnecessary and overly broad.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee (March 13) and the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (April 2), Suarez testified that Pentagon proposals to exempt munitions left on training ranges from federal toxic waste laws "comports with existing EPA policy." Yet, according to EPA staff analyses, just the opposite is true. The Pentagon proposals:
"have the effect of invalidating the Munitions Rule [the current EPA policy] and eliminating environmental safeguards provided in that rule";
fail "to provide for the rights of states and citizens to address imminent and substantial endangerment issues at federal facilities"; and
"interfere with the ability of States to enforce air pollution and drinking water requirements that protect public health and the environment."
The EPA staff analysis also points to an array of other problems entailed in the proposals, including weakening the ability of anti-pollution agencies to address "off-range impacts" of spreading contamination, exempting petroleum spills from regulation and creating pollution dangers from scuttling the Navy's ghost fleet as "artificial reefs."
"Mr. Suarez perpetrated a fraud on the Congress and the American people by failing to be candid about the real consequences of the Pentagon plans," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "In an effort to present a unified front, EPA is muzzling its own experts to maintain a facade that we have nothing to fear from Pentagon toxic practices."
In the April 3 hearing, Pentagon Deputy Counsel Ben Cohen offered amendments to allay concerns about the scope of military exemptions, but none of his proposed changes addressed the problems raised by EPA staff. In addition, EPA specialists have, through PEER, raised the concern that the Pentagon plans also permit defense contractors to discharge toxic chemicals (such as perchlorate) during weapons systems development.