Washington, DC — In a quiet mid-summer move, the U.S. Army has repealed the federal regulations governing its air and water pollution, toxic waste, resource protection and noise abatement practices, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This repeal leaves in its place only internal guidelines, which cannot be enforced and which are in the midst of a secretive redrafting.
In a July 20, 2007 Federal Register notice, the Army declares that environmental regulations governing the service are repealed effective immediately, offering the following cryptic yet obtuse rationale:
“The Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management…has concluded this regulation is obsolete. This regulation has been extensively revised and has been determined that the procedures prescribed in the regulation are for Army officials, and not intended to be enforced against any member of the public. As a result, the regulation does not affect the general public. Therefore, it would be helpful in avoiding confusion if 32 CFR Part 650 is removed.”
“On matters of pollution, hazardous waste and resource conservation, the Army has just put itself on a voluntary honor system by repealing the only legally enforceable regulations,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Incredibly, the Army contends that this does ‘not affect the general public’ and therefore the public will have no say in what anti-pollution rules the Army must follow.”
For the past two years, the Army claimed that it was preparing a new version of its environmental regulations, which would then be inserted in the Code of Federal Regulations as a replacement to the previous 32 CFR Part 650. The sudden decision to remove the regulation entirely has taken many of its own resource professionals by surprise. In addition, the revised internal environmental rules have not yet been unveiled – but when completed, they will not be subject to any public review.
Unlike federal regulations, which are subject to public comment and have binding legal status, internal rules, such as Army Regulations, are considered guidance. Commanders can deviate from Army Regulations for purposes of accomplishing an ordered mission, such as a training exercise.
“This move makes it exceedingly difficult for environmental specialists within the Army to persuade uniformed commanders to abide by anti-pollution and resource protection rules, which no longer have the force of law,” Ruch added, pointing to PEER surveys of civilian specialists showing rising environmental conflicts on domestic bases. “Now, nobody on the bases knows what, if any, rules they are supposed to follow, as the Army is proclaiming that whatever is left ‘has been extensively revised.’”
This action by the Army affects all installations and covers not only pollution and wildlife issues but also a wide range of activities from cultural resource (such as archaeological artifacts) preservation to integrated pest management practices, involving herbicides and pesticides. In addition, the move effectively downgrades Army environmental compliance from a “must fund” category to a discretionary funding status, which given the financial strains currently on the Army, may result in a sizeable reduction in support for environmental programs.