Coalition Sues to Force Defense Department to Draft New Environmental Impact Statements for Missile Defense Program

Suit Also Seeks Analysis of Test Impacts in Alaska

WASHINGTON (August 28, 2001) - Representing a coalition of environmental, public health and community groups, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today filed suit 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. The organization filed suit in the Federal Court for the District of Columbia.

"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."

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. (Contact information for these organizations is on the first page of the complaint, which is available from NRDC.)

Under the Bush 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, air-borne lasers, ground and sea-based radars, and space-based heat sensing satellites.

According to NRDC's complaint, the new missile defense program would have a significant environmental impact:

  • Constructing new facilities, laying communications cables, and performing test launches could disrupt unique and pristine ecosystems. The Kodiak launch facility in Alaska, for example, is located in a relatively untouched environment that provides habitat for endangered and threatened species.

  • Space debris from interception tests could collide with satellites.

  • Powerful new missile tracking radars would emit hazardous electromagnetic radiation.

  • Test rocket launches would emit large quantities of ozone-depleting chemicals into the atmosphere.

  • Missile defense facilities would store and use solvents and other explosive chemical compounds.

According to 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."

"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."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.