Pentagon pulls strings to skirt cleanup orders
WASHINGTON » The Defense Department is refusing to comply with orders or sign contracts to clean up 11 hazardous waste sites, including one in Hawaii, and has asked the White House and Justice Department to intervene on its behalf.
The dispute between the Pentagon and the Environmental Protection Agency has simmered over the last year since the EPA began issuing orders compelling the Air Force and Army to clean up four properties where contamination poses an "imminent and substantial" risk to public health and the environment. To date, the Pentagon has agreed to comply with only one of those orders, at an Air Force missile plant near Tucson, Ariz.
In separate letters in May to the White House budget office and the Justice Department, Pentagon officials challenged the EPA's authority to issue orders under other environmental laws to force Superfund cleanups at Air Force bases in New Jersey and Florida and at the Army's Fort Meade in Maryland. The Defense Department dismissed the EPA's claim that soil and ground-water pollution at the three bases was dangerous enough to warrant such action.
Senate Environment Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., agreed yesterday with a request by Maryland's two Democratic senators, Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, to hold a hearing on the Pentagon's noncompliance with the EPA's orders.
At eight other Superfund sites, the Pentagon is objecting to "additional provisions" that it says the EPA added to proposed cleanup contracts. Those eight facilities are in Massachusetts, Virginia,
Maryland, Alabama, New Jersey, Florida and Hawaii.
The Hawaii site is a 2.9-acre dumping ground in a gulch near Building 293 at the Naval Telecommunications Station in Wahiawa. Soil tests found a number of toxic chemicals, including thallium and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), according to the EPA.
Terri Kojima, Navy spokeswoman, said: "The Navy in Hawaii is proceeding with its cleanup actions, and environmental studies and investigations at Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station, Pacific, under the Navy's Installation Restoration Program.
"The Navy established its Environmental Restoration Program in 1980 in response to Superfund legislation to mitigate past releases of hazardous waste. Cleanup is conducted in close cooperation with the Hawaii Department of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with participation with the community through our Restoration Advisory Boards."
This mission of the station is to provide voice, video and data support to the Pacific Fleet. Its headquarters is located three miles east of Wahiawa. The site was purchased for $1 million in 1939 from the Territory of Hawaii, with construction completed in 1942.
The Wahiawa site was put on the government's Superfund list in 1994.
"The (Defense) department, at different levels and times, has exhausted every available avenue with EPA to resolve these issues," Wayne Arny, deputy undersecretary of defense, said in a May 14 letter to White House budget officials. The letter was first reported by the Washington Post.
Tad Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for environment, said yesterday in an interview that cleanups are progressing at all 12 sites, including the Arizona missile plant, which has been on the EPA's Superfund list since 1986. The other 11 sites were put on the EPA's list of most polluted sites in the country during the 1990s.
"There is not a stoppage of work because we have not signed these agreements," Davis said. "We are moving out. We are not letting a lot of dialogue on these agreements" deter the cleanups.
The Defense Department has entered into contracts for 123 of the 135 Superfund sites it owns - more than any other entity in the country. The contracts set formal schedules and allow the EPA to assess penalties if deadlines are missed.
Although law favors the EPA in disputes with other agencies over cleanups on federal property, the Pentagon is asking the Justice Department and White House to take its side.
Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg K. Kakesako contributed to this report.