Denver Direct: House renews ban on Piñon Canyon expansion

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

House renews ban on Piñon Canyon expansion

By Robert Ewegen
          TRINIDAD, Colorado – The military construction budget that was marked up in the Military Construction Subcommittee of the U. S. House Appropriations Committee today will continue the funding ban on “any action that relates to or promotes the expansion of the boundaries or size of the U.S. Army’s Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site” in remote southern Colorado, Jean Aguerre, president of the watchdog group Not 1 More Acre!, said Wednesday.

Keeping the funding ban in the law has been a top priority for N1MA! as it fights to protect fragile prairie lands being ravaged by the Pentagon’s armored tanks, high-tech weapons systems and training at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. The funding ban was first passed by Congress in 2007 to stop a massive secretly planned military expansion across 6.9 million acres of fragile native grasslands.   Because the U.S. Senate has failed to enable a permanent prohibition on expansion of the site, the funding ban must be renewed every year by expansion opponents and Representatives in the House.
Aguerre announced the renewal of the funding ban for the sixth consecutive year as Not 1 More Acre! hurled its third challenge against the Army’s Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site environmental disclosures in just six weeks. The latest N1MA! rebuke was filed Wednesday (May 15, 2013) by the Denver-based Ewegen Law Firm in response to the Programmatic Environmental Assessment and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact for the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan 2013 – 2017 for Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.”  
N1MA’s latest effort to parry the Army’s expansion plans followed on the heels of objections filed on Tax Day, April 15 that exposed the Army’s shadowy partial disclosure of illegal construction supporting expansion at PCMS.  Just three weeks earlier, on March 21, N1MA! protested the Army’s claim that ongoing and expanded operations at the remote Southern Great Plains maneuver site pose no significant environmental or economic impacts. 
N1MA’s reprimand called those findings a “bizarre greenwash of an ongoing assault on fragile prairie grasslands in an area that Fritz L. Knopf, an historical Great Plains ecologist, describes as the ‘headwinds’ of the 1930s Dust Bowl.”  

The N1MA! reproach filed Wednesday accused the Army of continuing to “piecemeal its plans for the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in an effort to sidestep basic requirements of the funding ban, the National Environmental Policy Act and a 2009 Federal District Court ruling that vacated the PCMS Transformation Record of Decision issued by the Army in its original efforts to expand the site.
Over the last nearly eight years the Army has issued a staggering 10,000 pages of alleged NEPA documentation – all of which make the absurd claim that the Army’s actions have no significant impact to the quality of the environment, economy and culture of the Southern Great Plains.
In one segmented document after the next, the Army’s analysis ignores science and even the sound principles of science that establish military damage to the shortgrass prairie are irreparable and irreversible. Even as military training expands – less than 5% of the PCMS is currently off limits to training – and intensifies, the Army and its tax-supported real estate partners encumbering land in the region to be managed for military needs employ environmental tactics that appear to trick ‘neighbors’ and the public into believing that impacts will be insignificant.
While admitting the “sheer amount of alphabet soup” generated by the Army’s disclosures and the legal processes are confusing, Aguerre said the underlying theory of the law isn’t complicated. The Sikes Act, passed in 1960, recognizes the importance and value of natural and cultural resources to military lands.  Accordingly, the Sikes Act requires the Department of Defense to develop and implement Integrated Natural and Cultural Resources Management Plans (INRMPs/ICRMPs) for military installations across the United States.
“As a further example of this deceptive piecemealing, N1MA! asks where the Integrated Cultural Resource Management Plan is and why it wasn’t issued as part of the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan? And, why – except to mislead and confuse taxpayers – does the Army continue to ignore science that proves all the past, current and future military damage will devastate the entire region? The Army’s ‘make-believe NEPA’ fails to comply either the spirit or letter of the law while perpetrating real-life catastrophic impacts to our security and health,” Aguerre said.
The Army’s latest mockery of environmental and economic impact analysis should be withdrawn because it fails to meet the basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. It also fails to heed the mandates of Congress as expressed in the funding ban – renewed for the sixth consecutive year on this very day. This Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan fails to make sense from a policy standpoint and it would both sanction and inflict massive and irreversible damage on America’s last major intact grassland, a fragile ecosystem that elsewhere has not yet recovered from the devastation wrought by ill-considered federal government policies that led to plowing of these fragile grasslands in the 1920s in the bone-headed public campaign that “rain follows the plow.” In fact, what followed the plow when the inevitable drought cycle reasserted itself was this nation’s most catastrophic environmental collapse, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
The Army, its contractors and politicians, in defiance of the law, scientific knowledge and common sense, are effectively asking the public to believe that “rain will follow the tank!” and magically reseed and renew these tortured lands. Alas, the best science on this subject shows that the notion that invasive species can somehow revive devastated grasslands that required thousands of years of natural processes to reach their original productive state is a discredited policy as misguided and mischievous as the original “rain follows the plow” folly, Aguerre said.