Environment, North America

Key Step to Clean Up Vieques Survives in Catastrophically Awful Military Bill

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, December 10, 2019

First the good news.

If one of the worst pieces of legislation ever drafted becomes law, there is one small measure in it that we can be pleased with. RootsAction.org and World BEYOND War and many other organizations and activists from Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States and beyond urged Congress through a petition and a variety of lobbying approaches to provide $10 million for the purchase of closed detonation chambers in the clean-up of military contamination in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

This was one of dozens of positive measures passed by the House of Representatives but not by the Senate. Unlike most such measures, this one survived the “compromise” between the two versions of the bill.

The bombing practices in Vieques ended in 2003. But this other “bombing,” open-air detonation under the guise of “cleanup,” has continued. We asked Congress to put an end to OB/OD (open burning/open detonation) of munitions, which releases toxins into the environment and sickens the local population. Led by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, members of Congress managed to make this one item stick.

For once Puerto Rico gets possibly the only thing good in a stinker of a potential law.

You won’t find the bit about this in the final text of the bill if you search for “Vieques,” but will if you search for “detonation” or any of the words in this section:

“SEC. 378. DETONATION CHAMBERS FOR EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL. (a) IN GENERAL. — The Secretary of the Navy shall purchase and operate a portable closed detonation chamber and water jet cutting system to be deployed at a former naval bombardment area located outside the continental United States that is part of an active remediation program using amounts made available for environmental restoration, Navy. Upon a determination by the Secretary of the Navy that the chamber has completed the mission of destroying appropriately sized munitions at such former naval bombardment area, the Secretary may deploy the chamber to another location. (b) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—There is authorized to be appropriated for fiscal year 2020 $10,000,000 to carry out subsection (a).”

Now for the bad news.

While $10 million sounds like a lot to you or me, it’s just a bit more than 0.001 percent of the $783 billion being thrown into wars and war preparations in this bill.

The budget President Trump proposed to Congress for 2020 included $718 billion for the U.S. military, not counting “Homeland Security,” nuclear weapons in the “Energy” Department, or the military expenses of other departments and agencies, totaling well over 60% of federal discretionary spending for wars and preparations for more wars.

Congress is about to vote on a bill to give the Pentagon even more than Trump proposed: $738 billion. And, while corporate media outlets are conspicuously not shouting “But how are you going to pay for it?” the trade-offs couldn’t be more stark. Tiny fractions of this funding could end starvation or the lack of clean water globally. A bit larger fraction could begin to address the real danger of climate collapse — a danger significantly exacerbated by militarism.

Not only is this bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a disaster, but virtually all of the positive measures that were in the version passed by the House have now been stripped out by a Conference Committee tasked with reconciling the House and Senate versions.

The House version of the bill, passed earlier this year, contained the following measures now entirely removed (this is a very partial list):

  • repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.
  • prohibition of military force in or against Iran.
  • prohibition of giving support to or participating in the war on Yemen.
  • prohibition of funding for missiles noncompliant with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
  • support for extending the New START Treaty.
  • requirement that the U.S. military provide Congress with the national security benefits of every foreign military base or foreign military operation.
  • requirement for the EPA to designate all PFAS (chemicals with which military bases poison ground water) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

The House seems to have compromised with the Senate by surrendering virtually across the board.

This bill is unacceptable. It makes the chances of more wars and of nuclear war greater.

Click here to say No right now. It’s urgent!

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