Does the Navy Know Where Its Munitions Go?

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Justin Haas or Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Does the Navy Know Where Its Munitions Go?

Navy Cannot Find Records to Quell Claims of Continued Open Sea Dumping

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Navy cannot account for the disposition of artillery shells,
missiles and other heavy munitions when its warships return to American
ports after deployment, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER has received
reports that the Navy still dumps ordnance at open sea to avoid
cumbersome security arrangements for high-impact explosives when ships
enter U.S. ports.

On March 15, 2010, PEER submitted a Freedom
of Information Act request to the Department of the Navy asking it for
any records relating to disposal of unused munitions from Navy vessels
returning to port as well as for copies of charts of known ammunition
disposal areas in waters off U.S. coasts. For decades, both the Navy
and the U.S. Army routinely dumped unwanted ordnance, including chemical
weapons, at sea. Precisely when (or if) the practice of ocean dumping
ended is not well documented.

After the PEER request was
acknowledged by the Chief of Naval Operations, it was shuttled to a
number of naval commands, each concluding that it either could not find
any responsive documents or not responding at all. The naval commands
in this fruitless bureaucratic odyssey include the -

  • Naval
    Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC);
  • Naval Sea Systems
    Command (NAVSEA);
  • Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP);
  • Naval
    Operational Logistics Support Center (NOLSC); and
  • Ammunition
    Logistics Directorate (which offered no acronym).

"What
ultimately happens to our naval armaments did not seem like a tough
question but perhaps we are missing some hidden complexity," mused PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who filed the document request after
receiving complaints that some naval commands had reverted to old habits
by jettisoning artillery shells and other munitions to avoid in-port
storage procedures and/or to circumvent shortages of approved storage
bunker space. "Hopefully, someone in the Navy tracks what happens to its
bombs and missiles. Regretfully, we have to sue to find out who that
is."

Under the Freedom of Information Act, federal
agencies (including those in the Pentagon) have 20 working days to
answer document requests, although agencies may request a 10-day
extension - a step the Navy chose to take. On May 26, 2010, PEER
appealed the lack of response to the Navy Office of Judge Advocate
General (OJAG). In a curious letter dated July 13, 2010, OJAG declared
the PEER appeal "moot" since some commands had responded they had no
information. The PEER lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court
for the District of Columbia. The government has 60 days to file a
response.

In a June 29, 2010 news release about its
Environmental Restoration Program, the Navy stated that it "is working
hard to clean up releases of contaminants to the environment, most of
which occurred in decades past." "We merely want to see the proof
behind the press releases," Ruch added.

 

Read
the PEER complaint

View the OJAG
letter

See recent
Navy press release touting its environmental awareness

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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