Star Wars Plan Violates Environmental Laws, Suit Charges

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental and public health groups has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Defense, charging that a planned missile defense test range in the Pacific would violate several federal environmental laws. The suit is the latest roadblock facing the Bush administration's defense plan, commonly dubbed "Star Wars."

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Greenpeace protesters in London, England gather outside Buckingham Palace on July 19 to protest President Bush's planned missile defense system (Photo Greenpeace/Hugo Philcott)
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed the suit today in the federal court for the District of Columbia to force the Defense Department to prepare new environmental impact statements on missile defense activities in Alaska and elsewhere before constructing new test and emergency deployment facilities.

"By its own admission, the Bush administration has radically revised the missile defense program," said NRDC senior attorney David Adelman. "It can't do that without reassessing the potential environmental damage and providing for public comment. Otherwise, it's breaking the law."

Under the Bush administration's plan, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) proposes to build a Missile Defense System (MDS) Test Bed stretching from Alaska to the Marshall Islands to Hawaii to California. The system would test a multi-layered defense system of ground and sea based interceptor missiles, airborne lasers, ground and sea based radars, and space based heat sensing satellites.

According to the NRDC, the Pentagon is attempting to rely on a defunct and deficient environmental impact statement - prepared under the Clinton administration to support deployment of a ground based system that neither Congress nor the president ever approved - to justify a very different proposal for expanded, integrated flight testing of all types of ballistic missiles defenses.

"Junking the previous deployment plan, which was wildly premature from a technological standpoint, was a wise move," said NRDC senior analyst Christopher Paine. "But the Bush administration is now seeking to preserve just enough of the old plan - five out of a hundred silos for a potential 'emergency capability' at Fort Greely, Alaska - to assert under the National Environmental Policy Act that it is implementing a 'downscoped' version of the previous Clinton plan."

The suit charges that the new missile defense program would have several significant environmental impacts that were not addressed by the previous environmental impact statement. The coalition alleges that test rocket launches would emit large quantities of ozone depleting chemicals into the atmosphere, and missile defense facilities would store and use solvents and other explosive chemical compounds.

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Activists from Greenpeace erect a 45 foot inflatable missile in front of the Vandenburg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California on July 13 (Photo Greenpeace/Linnemann)
Constructing new facilities, laying communications cables and performing test launches could disrupt pristine ecosystems, the coalition warns. The Kodiak launch facility in Alaska, for example, is located in a relatively untouched environment that provides habitat for federally listed endangered and threatened species.

Space debris from interception tests could collide with satellites, the groups say, and powerful new missile tracking radars would emit hazardous electromagnetic radiation.

"We trust the court won't fall for this subterfuge," said Adelman. "It's clear that what the Bush administration is actually doing is nothing like the old Clinton deployment plan. The Clinton era environmental impact statement says nothing about interceptor flight tests from sites in Alaska. In fact, it says there wouldn't be any. It's just not plausible to use this EIS to justify the startup of work on a completely different project that is geared to development and testing."

If the suit is successful in forcing the completion of new environmental impact statements, it could delay construction of the planned test range for years. In order to meet the Bush administration's goal of creating a working emergency antimissile system by 2004, the military had planned to begin building missile test beds at Alaska's Fort Greely in early 2002.

The lawsuit could also force the administration to rethink plans to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. President George W. Bush plans to scrap the treaty, which bars the two countries from developing missile defense systems, to begin missile testing in earnest next year.

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Greenpeace activists outside the U.S. embassy in Canberra, Australia, show their support for two Australians arrested during a July protest at Vandenburg Missile Base in California. The August 13 action was one of several staged around the world to mark the arraignment of the 15 Greenpeace members and two journalists arrested at Vandenberg (Photo Greenpeace/Cole)
Joining NRDC as plaintiffs in the suit are Physicians for Social Responsibility, Greenpeace USA, Alaska Public Interest Research Group, Alaska Action Center, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group, and No Nukes North: Alaskan and Circumpolar Coalition Against Missile Defense.

The lawsuit is the latest volley in the coalition's war against the proposed missile defense system. Last month, 15 activists from the environmental group Greenpeace were arrested after they delayed a test of the U.S. missile defense system at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The activists, along with two journalists, were charged with conspiracy to violate a military safety zone and violating an order. If convicted, they could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined $250,000 each.

Those charged come from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Sweden, Australia, Spain and Canada.

The activists were protesting the launch of an unarmed Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile in support of what the Air Force is now calling the Ground based Midcourse Defense Segment, formerly the National Missile Defense Program.

The 15 members of the boat crews and two members of the press were below the flight path of the missile, designated off limits to all protesters and the press corps. Swimmers on boogie boards went ashore at the base, while three boats and a press boat, chased by the Coast Guard and a helicopter, entered the exclusion zone. Two divers went down underwater in the zone.

Greenpeace believes that the U.S. missile defense program, dubbed Star Wars, "poses one of the single greatest threats to the world and will lead to a new nuclear arms race."

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Greenpeace executive director Dr. Gerd Leipold (Photo courtesy GEM Partners)
"Our activists acted with honor and integrity in a courageous, selfless and nonviolent protest against a dangerous program," said Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International. "They're from across the world and reflect a growing global opposition to Star Wars."

Although the activists delayed the launch for 40 minutes, the Air Force was pleased with its successful test, in which a guided missile intercepted an airborne target.

"This success is a great example of the tremendous teamwork that is characteristic of Team Vandenberg," said Colonel Robert Worley II, 30th Space Wing commander.

The protest was the latest in a series in the Greenpeace campaign against tests of the U.S. missile defense system.

In the Marshall Islands, the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior spent several months protesting missile tests at the Kwajalein Missile Range. Two activists were arrested there during a protest action on May 7, and served 30 days in jail.

On July 3 and 4, more than 100 Greenpeace activists from the United States, Denmark and the UK invaded the American Menwith Hill base, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire to reveal the base's role in President Bush's plan for a national missile defense system.