Environmental Groups Settle Missile Defense Lawsuit Against Defense Department

Department Agrees to Complete New Environmental Impact Analyses

WASHINGTON (March 18, 2002) - In response to a lawsuit by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and seven other environmental and peace organizations, the Defense Department has agreed in principal to complete new environmental impact analyses of its proposed missile defense testing activities in Alaska and the northeastern Pacific. NRDC and its co-plaintiffs filed the suit in August 2001 under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The U.S. Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., has yet to approve the settlement. The parties expect the court to approve it soon.

"We are pleased that the Pentagon has agreed to grant Alaskans a full public environmental review process," said Geoffrey Fettus, the NRDC attorney handling the settlement. "We need to closely examine the impact the missile defense program could have on Alaska's environmentally sensitive ecosystems."

After the Bush administration took office, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) proposed to expand the missile defense system testing area to Alaska and the northeastern Pacific. The administration plans to use this expanded test range to develop 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.

Under the settlement agreement, the Defense Department and BMDO will prepare a full environmental impact statement on their proposed extension of missile defense testing activities to the Northeastern Pacific region. These proposed activities include constructing and operating test-target and interceptor launch facilities, satellite and fiber-optic communication facilities, and one or more high-power X-band radars in environmentally sensitive areas adjacent to or in the Kodiak and National Maritime Wildlife Refuges, and the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

"The Defense Department held no public comment sessions in Kodiak before it issued the decision last summer to build major elements of the proposed system in Alaska," said Stacy Studebaker of the Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group, a plaintiff in the suit. "This settlement will open up the process for public participation."

The Pentagon also agreed to prepare a less extensive "environmental assessment" to supplement a Clinton administration-era environmental impact statement covering the deployment of as many as 100 ground-based interceptors at Alaska's Fort Greely. The Bush administration initially proposed to construct a much smaller ground-based missile defense "test bed," comprised of only five to six interceptor launch silos and associated facilities, to "validate" the Clinton plan's technology, before proceeding with a larger-scale deployment.

This environmental assessment, already in process, will examine the environmental impact of shifting emphasis from deployment of dormant, fully canisterized and operational interceptor missiles to a ground-testing and "validation" effort that now includes hazardous missile assembly and fueling and defueling operations. It also will examine the environmental impact of substituting a modified Cobra Dane radar on Shemya Island in the Aleutian chain in place of the new billion-dollar X-band radar originally planned.

Joining NRDC as plaintiffs in the suit were 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 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.