ST. LOUIS – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned Monday that procedures designed to protect the environment can sometimes jeopardize U.S. troops and should be balanced against military needs.
“When those concerns are not balanced, the consequence can be unfortunate,” he told those gathered here for a White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation.
The military is rarely on the same side as environmentalists in political battles. Many of the Defense Department’s training ranges are in remote areas. Since 2002, the Pentagon has asked Congress to exempt the military from various environmental laws or grant it delays in meeting regulatory requirements.
Congress has agreed so far to five of the Pentagon’s eight requests, including making changes to the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Lawmakers initially rejected most of the Pentagon’s appeals after Congress’ Government Accountability Office reported in 2002 it had found little to support the Pentagon’s claims that environmental laws are hindering military training.
Rumsfeld mentioned several projects Monday where the military and conservationists worked together. He pointed to the resurgence of the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species, on U.S. military bases in the southeastern United States.
He said the Defense Department recognizes that some lifesaving military training depends on conserving habitat for wildlife and forestalling encroachment by suburban sprawl.
Steven McCormick, president of the Nature Conservancy, which has sometimes been a Pentagon partner in securing land and funding for buffers around military bases, said there is a “tremendous opportunity” for more joint efforts.