Public comment on Shemya

16 February 2002

from Stacy Fritz
Coordinator, No Nukes North

To all who are taking an interest in the public comment for Shemya Island (see below), it may interest you to note that Shemya Island is actually part of a National Wildlife Refuge - the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  About a year ago, the military requested that they be allowed to take over the "primary land manager" position for Shemya, so that they would have to deal with US Fish and Wildlife even less.  Shemya is so incredibly impacted by military activity since WWII that USFWS probably wouldn't know where to start to get the island decontaminated, but it doesn't look like they will have to worry about that anytime soon.

Keeping in mind the bigger picture for GMD in AK, Shemya is NOT being considered for launches, and so making comments specifically about launch hazards will probably be disregarded for this particular situation.  As many of you know, the original NMD EIS in 2000 planned an X-band radar there.  Now they don't know where the X-band will go and are applying to upgrade the exisiting Cobra Dane radar on Shemya.  There seems to be all kinds of very serious construction planned for Shemya, however, that would be pretty superfluous for a radar that is largely remotely operated.  Shemya is used as a refueling base also, but now thay are saying that GMD itself needs a new 2.35 MILLION GALLON FUEL STORAGE TANK there (that is only one of the fuel tanks there- the 2000 NMD EIS planned for two 2.35 million gallon tanks and numerous others, totaling 4,905,100 gallons!!) .  I'm sure you've all heard of the Ring of Fire - and indeed Shemya is in one of the most seismically active places in the world.  As far as human impacts, Shemya is actually closer to people on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula than it is to other inhabited Aleutian islands.  There are lots of special sea otters and migratory birds and fishing in the area that would be impacted by an oil spill.

In other Alaskan news: the Army Corps of Engineers held a big conference here in Fairbanks a couple weeks ago for all the contractors interested in bidding on the pork-ject at Fort Greely.  There were 300-400 people at the meeting the first day.  The next day we all got into military buses and drove the 90 miles down to Delta Junction, Alaska, and then toured the site on Greely so the potential contractors could get a feel for it.  Needless to say, nobody mentioned the ABM treaty the whole time - to call it a non-issue to everybody involved would be an understatement.  I was sitting on the bus with a head honcho from Bechtel, who told me he thought that the Greely project would be "environmentally innocuous" - well, ain't we all relieved now!

Funny thing, though - the Army Corps announced that it would be taking bids until Feb. 26th and that the contract would be awarded on April 5th.  Less than two weeks after this whole affair, Bechtel and Washington Group International announce in Alaskan papers that they have formed a Joint Venture - "Missile Defense Constructors" - with their own snazzy little logo and pamphlets and everything, and they are holding a conference in Fairbanks to meet all interested subcontractors, you know - just in case "Missile Defense Constructors" happens to get that contract in April. 

Things got even sillier around here this past week, I thought, as I attended a 3-day conference on the long-term stewardship of Amchitka Island.  All these people from DOE and LLNL and Los Alamos and state agencies were there talking about how to deal with possible risks of radionuclides leeking out of the holes on Amchitka from the underground tests there.  As many of you know, the Cannikin test there in 1971 was the largest US underground test ever (5 megatons), and it seems like everybody was pretty upset about it.  Cannikin was a test of the Spartan warhead, which as I understand was part of the anti-ballistic technology of the time where the best plan was to explode a huge nuke in the midst of any/all incoming ICBMs.  I think Cannikin helped stimulate the signing of the ABM treaty the next year.  So, 30 years later, scientists are sitting around wondering about how to deal with this mess while at the exact same time, same hotel (I was running back and forth), the new Joint Venture "Missile Defense Constructors" were holding their meet & greet downstairs precisely because that ABM treaty is gone and letting them get on with this business. Also going on at the same time yesterday as all these nuclear scientists sat around and looked at water flow models, that test blew up in Nevada. 

So, please take time to send in your comments about GMD on Shemya because they are due on March 4, even though they probably won't look at them before that hearing in DC on whether to exempt the military from all applicable environmental laws on March 14th which the public can't comment on, only military and federal officials.  Cheers?

Stacey Fritz
Coordinator, No Nukes North
PO Box 84997
Fairbanks, AK 99708
(907) 457 - 5230

TEAM MDA is granting Alaska this Public Notice of Application for Permit for Shemya Island at the same time as they are trying to do away with all those bothersome environmental laws. Below are two items from the Military Toxics Project about the March 14th hearing of the Military Readiness Subcommittee:

The Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee is taking aim at these laws in a hearing on March 14:

  • RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act)
  • CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Clean Air Act
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • Noise Act
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • Coastal Zone Management Act
  • Federal wilderness acts

Only military and federal officials are being allowed to testify at the hearing.

Take Action Contact your Representative today to demand that communities and states be allowed to tell our side of the story!

The Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing March 14 about the impact of environmental laws and urban growth on military training and readiness. In reality, the hearing is being held to give the Pentagon and its allies in Congress an opportunity to push their agenda of gutting the few environmental laws that apply to the military without allowing communities or states to tell their side of the story. Take action now to demand that the hearings include community and state witnesses so that Congress can hear all sides of the story.


For at least the past year, the Pentagon has used the buzzword "encroachment" to promote their argument that environmental laws that protect ecosystems and human health are slowly destroying the militaryís ability to fight. The Pentagonís allies in Congress held three hearings in early 2001 to allow military officials to attack environmental laws without any opposition. No community leaders, state governments, or regulatory officials were allowed to testify at these hearings. Despite the fact that the military is already completely or partially exempt from most environmental laws, and that the President can grant exemptions from most laws at any time for national security reasons, certain Committees arranged these hearings to help the Pentagon push its agenda of exemptions from the few laws that do protect communities from military contamination and pollution.

The Pentagon has been preparing a series of legal and regulatory changes to give the military even more exemptions from environmental laws than they already have. This process has accelerated under the Bush administration and especially since September 11. The Pentagon seems to think that the "war" on terrorism can be used as cover to allow them to ram through their anti-environmental agenda without full debate or significant opposition. The March 14 hearing just announced signals the beginning of a push to pass the Pentagonís new proposals for more exemptions.

Communities affected by military contamination and pollution must stand together to demand that our voices be heard at the hearing on March 14 and throughout this debate. Please take action immediately to let Congress hear your voice.

Whatís At Stake

Nothing less than the health of ourselves and our families and the principle of one law for everyone is at stake. Environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act protect military neighbors from dangerous contamination. Existing military exemptions already make military neighbors less protected than neighbors of private sector facilities. The military is exempt from critical parts of the Oil Pollution Act, the Noise Act, and the statutes that govern nuclear energy. The Emergency Planning and Community Response Act only applies by executive order, which is not enforceable by federal agencies or states. EPA cannot enforce military compliance with the Clean Water Act. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) cannot be applied to the military in the same manner as private companies. The Secretary of Defense can unilaterally exempt military actions from provisions of the Endangered Species Act during the appeal process. There are other examples. The point is that the military is already exempt from many environmental laws or from enforcement of those laws (making them meaningless).

What We Want

The March 14 hearing and all Congressional hearings on this topic must include community and state representatives. We want our voices and our stories to be heard. We want equal time for community leaders and state officials that must confront the human cost of military contamination and pollution every day.

  • Call, fax, or email (or all three!) the majority and minority staff for the Military Readiness Subcommittee and ask that community leaders and states be allowed to testify on March 14. The fax number is (202) 225-7102. Pete Steffes is the majority (Republican) staff at (202) 225-6288 or and Dudley Tademy is the minority (Democrat) staff at (202) 226-2575 or

  • If you are represented by one of the members of the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (listed below), please contact them as soon as possible and ask them to ensure that community leaders and state officials are allowed to testify on March 14.

  • If you are not represented by one the Subcommittee members, contact your Representative and ask them to write to the Subcommittee requesting that community leaders and state officials be allowed to testify.

    You can find out who your Representative and Senators are at (which provides phone number and email for your representatives).

    You may also want to review MTPís Talking Points on this issue (in next item).













Joel Hefley, Chair



James Hansen



Dave Weldon



Howard McKeon



Roscoe Bartlett



J.C. Watts



Saxby Chambliss



Van Hilleary



Walter Jones



James Gibbons



Bob Riley, Vice Chair



Heather Wilson



Duncan Hunter









Solomon Ortiz, Ranking Minority Member



Ciro Rodriguez



Lane Evans



Robert Brady



Robert Underwood


Baron Hill



James Maloney



Susan Davis



Mike McIntyre



Richard Larsen




Here's the background on the new push for more military exemptions from environmental laws from:

Steve Taylor
National Organizer
Military Toxics Project
(207) 783-5091 (phone)
(207) 783-5096 (fax)
P.O. Box 558
Lewiston, ME  04243-0558

Does the Pentagon Need Even More Exemptions from Environmental Laws?

The Pentagon is claiming that environmental laws are hurting military readiness, despite the fact that the U.S. military is already completely or partially exempt from most of these laws. Hereís what they arenít saying about existing military exemptions and the cost to the environment and community health.

Why are communities and states being excluded from this debate?

Last year, three Congressional committees or subcommittees held hearings on military readiness which served as platforms for military officials to launch their assault on environmental laws. Community leaders and state officials were excluded. The Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services committee will hold another hearing on this issue on March 14, again without any testimony from the communities and states impacted by military contamination and pollution. We welcome a debate about military exemptions from environmental laws and the human cost of those exemptions. But, so far there hasnít been a debate because communities and states have been cut out. The people impacted by military environmental practices and their state governments deserve a chance to tell their side of the story, and Congress deserves to have all the information on the table when it debates this issue.

Isnít the military already exempt from most environmental laws?

Yes. The military is exempt from critical parts of the Oil Pollution Act, the Noise Act, and the statutes that govern nuclear energy. The Emergency Planning and Community Response Act only applies by executive order, which is not enforceable by federal agencies or states. EPA cannot enforce military compliance with the Clean Water Act. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) cannot be applied to the military in the same manner as private companies. The Secretary of Defense can unilaterally exempt military actions from provisions of the Endangered Species Act during the appeal process. There are other examples. The point is that the military is already exempt from many environmental laws or from enforcement of those laws. Neighbors of military facilities already have less protection than neighbors of private facilities. Letís not make it worse.

Are environmental laws and military training and readiness really incompatible?

In a word: no. All major statutes allow the President or his agents to exempt any public or private entity from provisions of the law for reasons of national security or national interest. But our military shouldnít enjoy blanket exemptions from laws or enforcement that allow it to ignore the health of its neighbors. Before we can talk about military training needs, we have to recognize the immense human and environmental cost being forced on communities that host our military. We have to consider the size of our military in the 21st century, and what kind of training we need. New alternative training technologies and munitions are deployed every year. Many of them are already in use.

U.S. Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) Ė who represents residents of Cape Cod who have had their sole source of drinking water contaminated by the military - confronted these issues directly in testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform last year, during a hearing on military training. Congressman Delahunt said:

From no serious quarter is there any desire to undermine readiness. Or to pressure regulators into irresponsible enforcement. Or, as some even suggest, to expose our troops to increased hazardsÖ.When Pentagon officials bemoan costly "work-arounds" there is no mention of the hundreds of thousands of federal dollars in compensation to local cranberry farmers for crops poisoned by polluted plumes. Or of elevated breast cancer rates in towns surrounding the base.

Congressman Delahunt also quoted two veterans who had spoken on the subject. One Ė a veteran of the D-Day invasion Ė stated that travelling five or six hours to train "may not be fun, but neither is combat." A Korean War veteran noted that "the Army Guard faces a personnel management problem Ė and it has alternatives. We have no alternative. This is our only water supply for the future."

We heard the same predictions of doom from private industry when federal environmental laws were passed, and in most states regarding state environmental laws. Companies and trade associations promised mass job losses and bankruptcies due to the cost of compliance with environmental laws. It didnít happen. Private companies made cultural changes, invested in innovative technologies, and found new ways to do business. In fact, we have found that environmentally sustainable business is better for the bottom line.

Military readiness and human health are not incompatible. In fact, our military exists specifically to protect our lives and health. We must find ways to make both possible while making sure we all follow the same rules. Military exemptions undermine public trust in our government and expose communities to unnecessary contamination.

Whatís the cost of existing military exemptions?

Past and current exemptions from environmental laws have allowed our military to become the largest polluter in the U.S. and produced a national environmental catastrophe. There are over 27,000 toxic hot spots on 8,500 military properties. There were 129 military sites on the National Priorities (Superfund) List in August 1995 (81% of all federal NPL sites, though DOD controls only 34% of federal facilities and only 3% of federal lands). DOD accounted for 71% of EPA enforcement actions against federal facilities in Fiscal Year 1997. The cost to cleanup DOD training ranges may already exceed $100 billion. The environmental, health, and monetary cost of existing military exemptions is already too high. We canít afford any more.

Doesnít the military need exemptions because of its special mission?

No. The President already has the authority to grant temporary exemptions in times of war or national crisis. Our military has proven it needs to be regulated to protect community health. We shouldnít poison communities in order to protect them. We shouldnít have to live in a democracy where our government is exempt from its own laws Ė the laws that the rest of us have to follow.

Canít the military regulate itself?

No. Polluters always say they donít need to be regulated Ė itís never true. You donít let the fox guard the hen house, and you donít let polluters regulate their own environmental performance. It hasnít worked with our military. Federal facilities are exempt from fines under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The number of federal facilities violating the CWA rose from under 6% in 1993 to over 40% in 1998. Over 40% of major defense facilities were in violation of the CWA in 1998. Conversely, the percentage of federal facilities in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Ė which was amended to include federal facilities in 1992 Ė fell from 45% in 1993 to 12% by 1998.

Is there public support for the equal regulation of the military?

The U.S. public believes that our government should follow the same rules as the rest of us. There has been bipartisan support in Congress and from many mainstream organizations for past waivers of federal sovereign immunity under environmental laws. A poll conducted in San Diego found that two-thirds of residents supported holding the Navy to the same environmental laws as private companies.

Where can I get more information about this issue?

The Military Toxics Project can provide more background information. Our web site is at You can also email or call (207) 783-5091.

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