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Pentagon slow to clean up bases, report says

After more than 20 years of disagreements the Defense Department is still resisting orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Fort Meade and two other military bases.

Pollution cleanup at Fort Meade in Maryland, New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base and Tyndall Air Force base in Florida remain in the early stages with little long term progress, according to a Government Accountability Office report set for release this week. (See the full report below.)

The Pentagon is the nation's biggest polluter, owning 141 of the 1,620 Superfund sites on the EPA's list. The Defense Department spent about $29.8 billion on environmental cleanup at military installations from 1986 to 2008, GAO said. By law EPA is supposed to sign interagency agreements with federal agencies that own Superfund sites, but as of June the Defense Department hadn't signed agreements for four of its sites, GAO said.

The Post reported more than two years ago that the Pentagon didn't want to sign such agreements with EPA, since it would put the environmental agency in charge of cleanup at the sites and allow it to assess penalties.

The GAO report, requested by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), found that much of the disagreement centers on how the Pentagon and EPA measure the level of cleanup. The environmental folks use metrics established by the Superfund program, but the military uses a different system based on its own environmental restoration program.

Auditors also faulted the Defense Department for failing to disclose some contamination to EPA and the public in a timely fashion, including lead shot found on a playground at Tyndall in June 2009 that potentially put young children at risk.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said officials are reviewing the report and would not comment.

Menendez thanked the Defense Department for choosing "to end a number of the ongoing bureaucratic turf battles," but said "the Pentagon has been the main obstacle -- it has to cooperate more if we are to fully protect public health at these installations."

Item cross-posted from Federal Eye. Continue reading the Monday Eye Opener:

By Ed O'Keefe  | August 16, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
 
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