Tucson — The U.S. Army foresees potentially significant adverse environmental consequences from its five-year expansion plan for bases in the US. Most of the harm will be felt around installations in the West, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The range of forecast impacts are outlined in a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement analyzing “force structure modifications” which include adding approximately 30,000 combat support troops and growing the Army by up to six active duty combat brigades. This augmentation would occur during the next five years through Fiscal Year 2013.
The Army has selected 17 installations for consideration of growth “scenarios,” with each option assigned a matrix of potential damaging effects ranging from air pollution to drains on water supplies to noise and air traffic congestion. Most of the target bases (11 of 17) are west of the Mississippi.
The installations slated to receive at least one thousand more soldiers and expanded operations are Fort Benning, GA; Fort Bragg, NC; Fort Bliss, TX; Fort Campbell, KY; Fort Carson, CO; Fort Drum, NY; Fort Hood, TX; Fort Hunter-Liggett, CA; Fort Irwin, CA; Fort Knox, KY; Fort Lewis, WA; Fort Polk, LA; Fort Riley, KS; Fort Stewart, GA; White Sands Missile Range, NM; Yakima Training Center, WA; and Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ.
The upper range scenario in the Army draft involves stationing “multiple” brigades totaling 7,000 additional soldiers. That upper range scenario would cause “high” adverse effects for air pollution, soil erosion, water usage, energy consumption, threatened or endangered wildlife, noise, air or surface traffic in some combination for virtually every installation. In some instances, the adverse effects were assessed as “very high” meaning that the impact could not be avoided through some possible mitigation.
“Unfortunately, the Army is under no legal obligation to minimize its global warming pollution or harm to the environment and public health, but it has a moral responsibility to do so,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson. “The issue for US leaders is how much more pollution, water loss, soil erosion, noise and congestion it will force on Americans when authorizing and funding Army programs.”
In related actions, the Army is seeking to significantly expand certain western bases, most prominently Fort Carson in central Colorado and the Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. Large proposed land withdrawals are proving controversial in both states, with Congress already acting to shelve Fort Carson expansion. Expansion plans for Yuma Proving Grounds are yet to be detailed but preliminary indications are that as many as 500,000 acres of federal lands may be withdrawn from public use.
“In the West, there are growing conflicts between the military’s desire to claim larger landscapes for war games and weapons development, versus shrinking wildlife habitat and burgeoning recreation demands,” Patterson added. “The Army cannot be the sole arbiter of the amount of environmental damage it will impose on America’s people, lands, air, water and wildlife. Congress, the public and civilian oversight agencies need equal involvement.”
The Army draft plan will soon be open for public comment but its draft environmental assessment is now available for study.