In recent months, we’ve learned about the Department of Defense hampering EPA’s chemical risk assessments and slowing the study of health effects from the TCE contaminating Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Now, the Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports that DoD is refusing comply with EPA orders to clean up military bases where chemical contamination poses “imminent and substantial” dangers to public health.
When EPA issues “final orders” to polluters, those that don’t comply can be hauled into court and forced to pay fines of up to $28,000 per day for each violation. When the polluter in question is a government agency, though, the picture changes. Layton explains:
Under executive branch policy, the EPA will not sue the Pentagon, as it would a private polluter. Although the law gives final say to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson in cleanup disputes with other federal agencies, the Pentagon refuses to recognize that provision. Military officials wrote to the Justice Department last month to challenge EPA’s authority to issue the orders and asked the Office of Management and Budget to intervene.
Experts in environmental law said the Pentagon’s stand is unprecedented.
“This is stunning,” said Rena Steinzor, who helped write the Superfund laws as a congressional staffer and now teaches at the University of Maryland Law School and is president of the nonprofit Center for Progressive Reform. “The idea that they would refuse to sign a final order — that is the height of amazing nerve.”
Pentagon officials say they are voluntarily cleaning up the three sites named in the EPA’s “final orders” — Fort Meade in Maryland, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
In other words, the Pentagon’s response is a blend of “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you tell me to” and “who’s gonna make me?” Aren’t you comforted to know that a third-grade mentality is driving the response to dangerous chemicals leaking into soil and groundwater?