Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2002 / 10 Kislev, 5763

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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The military should be protected from abusive environmental laws in times of war | We love Mother Nature's creatures and creations -- large and little -- as much as you.


Thirty-six years ago, Congress passed the first "Endangered Species Act." Maybe now, in this week honoring Veterans, it's time to pass an "Endangered Nation Act," protecting the American military from the abuse of that and other environmental laws.

The 1966 act, which sailed through Congress almost unopposed held that all domestic species have an equal right to protection. Subsequent legislation expanded that concern to all species, everywhere. Who could possibly object?

We should have. For the Endangered Species Act was never about species. It was about land use, and liberal environmentalists quickly turned it into a devastating legal weapon. Find a species, plant or animal, and get it on The List. Thereafter, or at least until that species was certified "unendangered," the land upon which it lived was held hostage. Public or private, no difference.

In like manner, environmentalists have increasingly turned this weapon on an organization that has proven almost as defenseless as private property owners: the Armed Forces. Odd as it may seem, as we fight the war on terror and prepare for war in Iraq, our military is being hindered by legislation intended to protect non-human forms of life.

One source tells us, "I was stationed at Ft. Benning from '92-'94 as a Blackhawk crew chief. Flying over certain training areas was prohibited and Rangers told me that they were ordered to stay a certain distance away from dead trees that were the home of Red Cockaded Woodpeckers. It was the training that created the dead trees (habitat) and once the habitat was created, the answer was to move to other training areas (and create more habitat)."

Two recent events are less amusing. Marines deployed to Afghanistan did not know how to dig foxholes, because environmental restrictions at their home base, Camp Pendleton, forbade digging. What was the problem, endangered earthworms? Granted, foxhole digging is not the most intellectually demanding of tasks, but you do need to know how to keep the walls from caving in on you, and how to do the fire step and grenade sump.

More seriously, as noted by Marc Kaufman of the Washington Post on November 2, "A federal judge has blocked the Navy from deploying its long-planned and powerful new sonar system, concluding that the deafening underwater sounds could injure and kill whales.... U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth LaPorte in San Francisco issued a temporary injunction stopping the Navy from deploying the high-volume, low-frequency active sonar worldwide because of its likely danger...."

The judge concluded that the Natural Resources Defense Council and animal-protection groups were likely to win their legal arguments. Those arguments center on the contention that the sonar would "harass" or injure up to 12 percent of any species of whales, dolphins or other marine mammals.

So what's the big deal? The Cold War's over; Russia's subs are rusting at their docks. The deal is that several dozen countries, including Red China, deploy nuclear and advanced diesel subs (which, contrary to belief, are often quieter than nuclear models). The new sonar, part of the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), allows the Navy to detect and track these boats worldwide.

But the environmentalist attacks on the military go beyond endangered species gimmickry. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but the demands to keep our bases pristine at all costs verge on the ludicrous. Consider green "no-lead" bullets. That's right, "environmentally friendly" rifle ammunition, at several times the cost of traditional rounds. But not to worry. Last year, an Army spokesman asserted that this Clinton-era project, undertaken when there were significant ammo shortages, would save money in the long-run by avoiding "clean-up costs." Predictably, additional tens of millions are now going to clean up old training areas and the industrial-waste sections of bases, where items such as old batteries and parts are stored.

And on and on. And all of this leads to more cost and less defense.

Maybe it's time for Congress to get back to basics and not hinder our ability to protect ourselves, as a nation, and down to the family and individual. After all, our Constitution was created for six reasons, including to "provide for the common defense" and to "secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." We would like to think that these constitutional convictions trump those green laws written by Congress and grotesquely twisted by special interest groups, their lobbyists and lawyers.

In our war against terrorism it is important that the same military which defends us not be made defenseless itself by abusive environmental laws. What the voters really chose last week was security and salvation over squabble and spat!

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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical- legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Comment by clicking here.


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