When it comes to entities that pollute the nation's environment, the Defense Department is at the top of the Environmental Protection Agency's list. But Pentagon and military officials are defying the EPA's orders to clean up toxins being emitted by at least three military bases.
The bases -- Fort Meade in Maryland, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey -- are among 129 military sites on the EPA's Superfund list of the nation's most polluted places, 13 of which have no cleanup plans.
The Defense Department has rejected the EPA's orders to clean up the bases in Maryland, Florida and New Jersey, which EPA officials suspect are leaking contaminants into soil and the water supply.
Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have refused to sign agreements for how the other 10 sites will be cleaned up. Under federal law, the EPA requires Superfund polluters to sign agreements describing how cleanups will be conducted, schedules for the work and penalties for missed deadlines.
The EPA has the authority to lodge fines and even sue polluters that don't comply, but the Pentagon has refused to acknowledge that authority. In May, military officials sent letters to the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department disputing the EPA's authority to force the cleanups.
In a letter to the EPA last week, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked for a full accounting of what actions have been taken to ensure the military complies with the cleanup orders.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the committee, said Monday it is "troubling" that the Defense Department is "in flagrant violation" of the EPA's orders and that military officials are "attempting to circumvent the law and Congress' intent" by calling on other federal officials to intervene.
This defiance on the part of Defense Department officials is stunning and shameful. It should not be tolerated. Superfund sites aren't just dirty spots; they are the most toxic places in the country and pose significant risks to the health of the environment and the American people.
© Las Vegas Sun, 2008