Years of zeal to protect the environment have reduced our military’s readiness.

The war in Iraq is no cakewalk. The coalition of the willing faces tenacious opposition, systematic violations of the rules of war and a harsh environment. Less obvious is that they are also hampered by a decade of destructive, radical environmental rules, policies and lawsuits that have compromised military training and readiness. This is an important cause of non-combat deaths in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

A military range in Arizona employs biologists to track Sonoran pronghorn antelope, so that firing can be prohibited within three miles of a target. Almost three quarters of Fort Lewis, Wash., is off limits to troops because it is critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl – though not one lives on the base. Environmental lawsuits would make 57 percent of California’s Camp Pendleton – the western home of the Marines – unusable.

As the war in Iraq wages on, so does the battle to combat the systematic damage done to military readiness by the Clinton-Gore preoccupation with global warming and with the reduction of greenhouse gases.

The U.S. Department of Defense, as part of its Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative, is currently asking Congress to ensure that the habitat of environmental laws governing military testing and training do not unnecessarily restrict or impede military preparedness.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support last month, Admiral William J. Fallon, U.S. Navy vice chief of naval operations remarked: “Sustaining military readiness today has become increasingly difficult because, over time, a number of factors, including urban sprawl, regulations, litigation and our own accommodations to demands from courts, regulatory agencies and special interest groups have cumulatively diminished the Navy’s ability to effectively train and test systems.”

This issue could very well come before the full Senate Armed Services Committee of which Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a key member.

The United States is thought to emit more than a third of the world’s total carbon dioxide, the federal government is the largest energy user in this country (about 2 percent of the national total), and the Department of Defense is the largest energy user within the federal government.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the environmental extremists in the Clinton administration, led by Vice President Al Gore, made DOD its prime target:

Clinton Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security Sherri Goodman boasted that the military had “reduced its emissions, when measured by energy consumption, by more than 20 percent” between 1990 and 1998. But such cuts inevitably cripple the military.

A 1997 background paper from the Pentagon’s own environmental office evaluated the impact of a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption/CO2 emissions:

• For the U.S. Army, there would be a reduction of the amount of operations and training “to a level that would downgrade unit readiness and require up to six additional weeks to prepare and deploy. Strategic deployment schedules would be missed, placing operations at risk.”

• For the U.S. Navy, a reduction of “some 2,000 steaming days per year from training and operations for deployed ships, causing cancellations of both bilateral and multilateral exercises.”

• For the U.S. Air Force, “a loss of over 210,000 flying hours per year,” resulting in this branch of the service becoming “incapable of meeting all the requirements of the National Military Strategy.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that accidents and mishaps resulting from insufficient training and battlefield simulation exercises have been so numerous in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Congress continues to address this important National Security issue, Sen. Collins will have an important role to play.

If we do not win this fight, the men and women of the coalition are and will continue to pay the price for years of eco battiness.

Dr. Henry I. Miller is a fellow at the Hoover Institution in Washington, D.C., a public policy research center devoted to advanced study in domestic public policy and international affairs.

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