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1/6/2007 - KEY HOUSE DEMOCRATS EYE COORDINATED OVERSIGHT ON DOD CLEANUPS

KEY HOUSE DEMOCRATS EYE COORDINATED OVERSIGHT ON DOD CLEANUPS - posted by Terry on 1/5/2007 Message: _______________________________________________ Date: December 26, 2006 - Democratic Rep. Solomon Ortiz (TX), who will chair the House Armed Services (HASC) readiness subcommittee in the 110th Congress, is eyeing early hearings on military cleanup issues next month, as well as crafting military cleanup legislation with a key House counterpart. Coordinating military cleanup legislation with Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), who will chair the House Energy & Commerce environment subcommittee, could help ease its passage by avoiding the jurisdictional fights that plagued past Republican efforts to address the issue. Ortiz told Defense Environment Alert in a Dec. 13 interview that holding hearings on cleanup issues including solid waste removal, trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination and property reuse will be a priority for his panel in the 110th Congress. “One of the first things the Republicans did [after the 1994 elections] was do away with the [HASC] investigations subcommittee, and [since then] the Defense Department doesn’t make reports to Congress,” Ortiz said. “We don’t know where we stand environmentally.” The lawmaker said he will call the secretaries of each military service to testify during the hearings, as well as “local communities, DOD people responsible for base closures and soldiers, because environmental impediments can hurt people living on bases too.” His office says EPA officials will also be asked to testify. He said he would look into issues such as water supply contamination at Camp Lejeune, NC, where a group of civilian activists has charged the Marine Corps with neglecting to provide for the health of soldiers and their families exposed to harmful chemicals such as TCE (Defense Environment Alert, Oct. 17, p11). He also intends to hold hearings to publicize the dangers of civilian encroachment at active bases, citing Camp Pendleton, CA, and Naval Air Station Oceana, VA, as examples of the problem. “If communities want bases that provide jobs, they need to restrict construction” that could interfere with a base’s continued usefulness, Ortiz said. “One of the first things we’ll do [on the subcommittee] is warn communities.” The main priority of the hearings will be “to expedite cleanups and give sites back [to local users], because now they’re environmental disasters,” he said. Money for cleanup and other projects the subcommittee may recommend could come from savings generated by identifying wasted or unnecessary funding. “There were no investigations” under the Republican leadership, he says, “so we may be able to find where money was misspent that should be put in the right place.” Until hearings are conducted, “it’s hard to know” where or how much such funding could be discovered. Ortiz said he has already discussed the upcoming hearings with some Republican members of the subcommittee, including Reps. John McHugh (NY) and Walter Jones (NC), and will work with them on solutions to the problems. A McHugh spokesman confirmed the discussion but says it is too early to comment on GOP priorities for the upcoming year. Ortiz and Solis could also coordinate efforts on a military cleanup bill next year following hearings in both panels, Ortiz said. The move would be a significant reversal of Republican leaders’ approach to environmental jurisdiction issues, which historically resulted in battles over which committee had primary oversight of such legislation as DOD’s proposal to exempt it from sections of environmental laws. DOD’s Readiness & Range Preservation Initiative (RRPI), traditionally included in the military’s proposed defense authorization bill each year overseen by the House and Senate Armed Services committees, has included a variety of exemptions and compliance extensions from environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act. DOD has successfully won waivers from some natural resource laws, but largely failed to amend pollution control laws in part because of jurisdictional concerns by the House energy committee over HASC oversight of environmental issues. RRPI is given little chance of success in a Democratically-controlled Congress. The Democrats’ plans to coordinate an approach to potential new military cleanup legislation could mean Solis would “favorably receive legislative proposals” from Ortiz rather than contesting jurisdiction of a bill, according to a former DOD official. “Subcommittees usually jealously guard their jurisdiction over environmental issues, but [that may change] if they share similar goals.” Although incoming energy committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) “has never been keen on letting environmental laws be amended in a defense bill,” he may not object to “a collaboration that results in funding and program direction for DOD.” The approach would be “proper for the defense bill” and would not likely face procedural hurdles, the source says. Another possibility is for Solis to craft a bill jointly with Ortiz and assert primary oversight of it once it is ready for consideration. “Most subcommittees don’t want stuff done outside their [jurisdiction] unless it’s very narrowly crafted,” the source says, adding that Solis would likely have primary jurisdiction over any cleanup bill resulting from Ortiz’s hearings. Solis has already outlined an aggressive agenda for her subcommittee, including a push for greater EPA oversight and enforcement at contaminated military sites, especially those where DOD is overseeing cleanup (Defense Environment Alert, Nov. 28, p3). Solis’ and Dingell’s offices could not be reached for comment. Source: Defense Environment Alert via InsideEPA.com Date: December 26, 2006 Issue: Vol. 14, No. 26 © Inside Washington Publishers

 
 

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