Washington, DC — Officials at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base have allowed routine environmental violations to go uncorrected and unpunished, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is suing to obtain the internal investigation report completed a year ago by Air Force Office of Special Investigation and submitted to the Base Commander at Tyndall AFB.
“At Tyndall Air Force Base, there appears to be an ingrained belief that environmental laws do not apply,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), who filed the complaint which triggered the investigation. “Tyndall is like a military version of Las Vegas – what happens on the base, stays on the base.”
On August 31, 2006, Phillips filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlining water pollution, wetlands violations and other breaches of resource protection laws, including those safeguarding cultural artifacts. The PEER complaint was buttressed by a number of internal e-mails and memos from base officials.
The complaint was referred to the Air Force Office of Special Investigation which conducted a review that concluded in November 2007. A month later, Phillips filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act seeking a copy of the investigative report. Despite indicating that the PEER request was “placed on our Fast Track”, the Air Force never produced the report. On January 9, 2008, PEER filed a formal appeal with the Secretary of the Air Force arguing that the 20-day response period required under the Freedom of Information Act had long since passed. PEER last heard from the Air Force on July 1, 2008. Today, PEER filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC.
“We believe that the documents produced by this suit will show that the base command was made aware of multiple violations of law, rule and regulations yet took no action,” Phillips added. “The same type of violations continue to occur and Tyndall under the orders of the same officials.”
Tyndall Air Force Base, located 12 miles east of Panama City, Florida, is the home for the 325th Fighter Wing of the Air Education and Training Command. It has attracted national attention for its refusal of a request by the EPA to sign an agreement governing the clean-up of a Superfund site on the base. In addition, Tyndall AFB has been stung by a series of lawsuits by its own environmental staff alleging on-the-job retaliation. These suits have resulted in verdicts awarding the workers approximately $1.5 million.