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The Army reversed course Thursday, saying it found money to avert dropping some environmental protections. But Army garrison commanders worldwide are still being told to freeze hiring and cut travel and other expenses because of costly military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A May 11 e-mail from Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland, obtained by The Associated Press, had directed garrison commanders to "take additional risk in environmental programs; terminate environmental contracts and delay all non-statutory enforcement actions" until after the new fiscal year begins in October.
But on Thursday the Army changed course.
"We will be able to continue all the environmental programs," Phil Sakowitz, deputy director for the Army's new Installation Management Activity command headed by Aadland, told the AP in an interview.
Sakowitz said he was given assurances Thursday morning, after accounts of the cuts were carried in the news media, that he would have enough money to avert making environmental cuts, though he was not told specifically how much. The installations command has a budget of $7 billion to $8 billion, he said.
Programs affected would have included those for reducing aircraft collisions with birds, controlling non-native species and affecting how hazardous waste is handled.
But other measures such as trimming travel spending, temporary employees and conferences are being implemented, with the cost-savings diverted to other efforts.
"All of you must implement these actions now and ensure resources are best used to support the war effort," Aadland wrote. "These are extraordinary times for our Army when fighting a war on several fronts, maintaining combat readiness on others," he wrote.
The message also said garrison commanders could shift money from environmental and other programs to meet more urgent needs. But as of Thursday, Sakowitz said, they would no longer be able to dip into funds intended for environmental programs.
An environmental group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, had said the Pentagon was irresponsibly ordering severe cuts in spending on programs that reduce pollution and protect wildlife.
"Protecting America's land, air and water is not a secondary mission that should be shirked when budgets get tight," PEER's executive director, Jeff Ruch, said.
Ruch said his group has been told by Army environmental specialists that the programs to be cut also were to include those for protecting endangered species, disposing of munitions in open-air burning and monitoring groundwater.
The Pentagon spends $4 billion on military environmental programs each year, says Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense installations and environment.
In the last two years, Congress has agreed to five of eight Pentagon requests to ease environmental requirements. The department and the Environmental Protection Agency are trying to make the remaining three requests more palatable to lawmakers.
Congress has approved the Pentagon's requests to ease requirements for designating critical habitat and a lower threshold for what can be considered "harassment" of a marine mammal.
Now, the Pentagon wants the Clean Air Act amended so any extra air pollution from training exercises wouldn't count for three years in states' plans for meeting federal requirements. It also is seeking changes that would let the military avoid cleaning up land of munitions used for normal purposes on operational ranges.