Environmental Dollars 'Moving Dirt'

By Joshua A. Kutner

The Pentagon's environmental budget has been on a downward slope during the past several years. Sherri W. Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security, believes this trend will continue.

"Our budget is on, what I call, a stable decline, which to me is good news," she says in a recent interview.

Unlike traditional defense programs, funding cutbacks in environmental cleanup equals progress.

As more cleanup projects are completed and more pollution prevention methods are instituted, less funding is required to meet the Pentagon's environmental security goals, says Goodman.

"One of the trends we track in our cleanup program is how much of our investment is in actually cleaning up and moving dirt compared to how much of it is studying and characterizing what needs to be done," she says.

The most recent statistics show 75 percent of total restoration dollars going to cleanup, 15 percent for studies and investigations, and 10 percent allocated to administration and support.

Pentagon officials are aiming to complete 90 percent of the base realignment and closure (BRAC) process by 2001. They are currently at 53 percent.

Funding for BRAC is decreasing as the process is completed, says Goodman.

"There will come a time still several decades away," she says, "when we will be able to invest much less in this area because we will have accomplished all this work."

The environmental security budget was approximately $4.8 billion in Fiscal Year 1998. In Fiscal Year 1999, that figure decreased to $4.4. billion. The environmental security budget makes up about 1.8 percent of the entire Defense Department budget, says Goodman.

The Fiscal Year 1999 environmental budget allocated $1.8 billion for compliance, $1.2 billion for cleanup; $672 million for base realignment and closure; $254 million for pollution prevention; $173 million for technology; and $108 million for conservation.

Compliance, the largest investment, involves the day-to-day operations that keep military bases open and functioning.

Other measures of progress include the reduction of toxic releases by 66 percent, the reduction of hazardous waste disposal off-site by 46 percent, the reduction of solid waste disposal such as landfills by 33 percent, and a 120 percent increase in recycling. Recycling efforts have more than doubled the department's expectations.

Hazardous waste and solid waste disposal reduction, though in progress, are still short of reaching the Pentagon's 1999 goals.

Another initiative set forth is the reduction of fatalities from safety-related accidents. Since 1979, this figure has decreased by 61 percent. However, the department's objective is to have zero accidental fatalities.

Recent environmental safety undertakings have included the development of more efficient cleanup technologies and partnering with safety regulators.

Ordnance Cleanup
The Defense Department continues working to improve its methods of detecting and removing unexploded ordnance.

"Only in the past five years," says Goodman, "have we begun to put unexploded ordnance or dud bombs into a similar kind of framework of regulation, framework of funding and framework of policy and activity as all the other types of cleanup that we have been doing on our military bases for almost two decades now. And this is important because there are now mandates in law and regulation for us to find and remove unexploded ordnance where it is an environment safety or health threat."

There is an increasing demand, says Goodman, to remove ordnance from closed bases so property can be put back to productive use. On operating bases, training must be allowed to continue.

"On our active ranges, given that we are not in the mode of acquiring land now-mostly we're closing bases-we have to make sure the land we still have is sustainable for the future," she says, "and that means developing policies so that we can clear ranges sufficiently to continue to use them on into the future."

To meet its objective, the Defense Department is developing guidelines for clearing active and closing bases-a set of regulations that has not been established before.

"We'll help establish what the requirement is to clear active and closing ranges and then identify the resources needed to do the unexploded ordnance detection and removal or cleanup, work with citizens and interested stakeholders, and also advance technology in this area," says Goodman.

The most common method for detecting unexploded ordnance today is a method called "bag and flag," she says. During this procedure, site inspectors walk in rows with hand-held metal detectors, similar to what one may see on a beach. When an inspector hears a positive detection, he puts a stake in the ground so that each warning area can be checked again for ordnance.

"While it works reasonably well, it is extremely cost ineffective because it gets a lot of what are called false positives," says Goodman. "It detects all the metal, but not all the metal may be unexploded ordnance."

Only a small number-approximately one out of 100-of warnings actually turn out to be ordnance, she said.

A recent advance in unexploded ordnance detection took place at the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Native American Reservation in South Dakota.

During World War II, the United States military used several Indian reservations as bombing ranges. After the war, some of the ordnance was not removed.

Goodman, a few years ago, signed a cooperative agreement with the president of the Oglala tribe that partners the Defense Department with the tribe in developing advanced technology and performing the actual cleanup.

"It empowers them to develop capability and capacity in unexploded ordnance work," say Goodman.

A new technology that has been implemented at the reservation is called the multisensor towed array detection system (MTADS).

The system-developed by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory-uses cesium vapor, full field magnetometers and active, pulsed-induction sensors. The sensors are mounted on low-signature platforms that are towed over survey sights by an all-terrain vehicle. MTADS contains an integrated data analysis system that locates, identifies, and categorizes military ordnance.

"The idea is to have something on the ground that's towed, that is not hand-held, that puts a number of sensors on the ground and has the possibility of reducing onsite costs from several thousands of dollars an acre to a couple of dollars an acre for actually detecting ordnance," says Goodman.

In earlier tests, MTADS completed 145 acres of surveys in approximately 60 hours. It identified close to 1,600 targets in the process. Officials say the system is easy to use and requires little training.

"The other really important part of this is to include the environmental regulators in these tests so that they will understand the capability and the technology and be more willing to accept it as a solution," says Goodman, "since in most cases, they are involved in approving our use of technologies at a particular location."

Weapons Maintenance
Another environmental safety advancement has taken place at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Soldiers at the Army base are using new weapon-cleaning technology that cuts maintenance time by 85 percent.

Gun cleaning is a "time-consuming process, and it is one that typically involves solvents that can be toxic and hazardous if there is long-term exposure," says Goodman.

The new system not only reduces the time spent cleaning the weapon, but also "reduces the probability of improper waste disposal, reduces solvent use, and develops an overall better system," she says.

Fort Lewis has saved about $3 million a year with this program. Pentagon officials believe the method will have similar effects in other military establishments.

The savings from the gun cleaning system are not reflected in the environmental budget, says Goodman. Because soldiers are actually doing the labor in cleaning the weapons, the funds come from the training budget.

"But it shows you the benefits that you get from the modest investments in pollution prevention and in technology for economic benefits elsewhere in the defense budget," she says.

The Defense Department is also forging partnerships with state governments in cleanup endeavors.

Legislators in Pennsylvania, specifically, signed an agreement with the Pentagon to establish a voluntary cleanup program.

"The landmark agreement-established in 1998-allows us to take advantage of a law that Pennsylvania enacted on voluntary cleanup agreements that streamlines a lot of the paperwork and red tape that is involved in cleaning up," says Goodman. "It allows us to do it at lower costs and also gives is a release from liability for contamination that might arise later."

The department is working to develop additional cleanup agreements and pollution prevention initiatives with other states.

"We are partnering with regulators in pollution prevention, because it is far better to prevent the pollution than to either have to regulate it, comply with it, or clean it up later," says Goodman. "So we have some pollution prevention partnerships with states as well."

The Pentagon has an agreement with regulators in Texas to assist military installations in discovering and developing pollution prevention methods.

The Defense Department's environmental security representatives are also trying to maintain open communication with industry on the best environmental safety practices.

"We are a lot like industry," says Goodman, "in that we are on a path of continuous improvement. I think our programs have improved tremendously, yet we are on a path of continuous improvement."

Goodman recently participated in a roundtable session with defense industry executives who informed her about their environment safety and health operations within their companies.

"We shared notes, and we shared lessons, and it's valuable for us because we sort of roughly try to benchmark our performance here against what is happening in industry," says Goodman. "We're doing better in some areas; maybe a little worse in other areas. There are things we can learn. There are things they can learn from us. And it's a valuable and constructive undertaking."

Topics: Budget, Environment and Energy Security, Safety and Environmental Engineering

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.