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The XX Battalion (*), XX Army unit, Fort XXXX, conducted training exercises from 3 Feb 96 to 23 Feb 96 on State of Alaska land at the Hatcher Pass Recreation Area. In Apr 96, two training sites where diesel had been spilled and debris scattered were reported to the state. USARAK conducted cleanup, and a 15-6 investigation was instituted in Jun 96 by the Army unit's command, Fort XXXX. The 15-6 investigation officer ultimately determined that only approximately 70 gallons of diesel had spilled, principally during tent stove refueling. The overall poor condition of the sites was largely attributed to snow cover and weather conditions. The state and the USACEDC Alaska Field Office conducted a joint criminal investigation into possible violations of federal or state environmental laws. The state decided to prosecute OICs MAJ XXXXX and MAJ XXXXX. USACID's Special Agent XXXXX recently indicated that the state intends to charge the OICs with a misdemeanor offense, presumably criminally negligent discharge of oil. Criminally negligent discharge of oil is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.

* Names and unit specifics have been removed.

The spill of POL products or hazardous materials may well be the most recurring environmentally related problem commanders will have to face. A unit must have an SOP that defines how to prevent a spill or how to deal with a spill should it occur. In the case of the unit in this story, they either had no such SOP or failed to follow it. When training is being conducted in an off-site area (and in an extreme climate area), units should automatically review their SOP and check it against local requirements to ensure their standards and procedures are appropriate.

If the unit in the above example had done these things, the incident may not have occurred, preventing prosecution of the unit's OICs by the Attorney General of Alaska. The prosecution based their case on failure to report the spill, not on the fact that the unit had a spill and polluted the area with other materials. Spills, like accidents, will happen in spite of the most rigorous efforts of leaders and soldiers to prevent them. When they do happen, they are not something to "sweep under the carpet." This philosophy is ethically and officially out of line with the environmental stewardship policies of the Army and the Department of Defense, and will result in punishment. Spills must be reported and in a timely manner!

Penalties for violations of federal laws include enforcement actions; administrative intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal, state, and regional agencies; assessments; or cease and desist orders. Often the fines and penalties are paid from funds designated for base operations or training. The same considerations are true for state or local laws and ordinances as well. Know the laws and ordinances. Do not assume they do not apply to you.

Violators can be held personally liable for cleanup costs and may face civil or criminal penalties. A violator is the actual person who caused the contamination, but may include the commander, supervisor, or leader who allowed the contamination to occur and did not take immediate action to prevent or correct it. The penalty can be up to $50,000 for each day of violation and up to two years in jail. If that is not enough, UCMJ charges may also be brought against the offender.

The example above is a sad story, but it is also a success story. As you review the news releases and articles which follow, note the repeated references to the environmental concern that local Alaskan-based units demonstrated. The leadership has done a good job of helping soldiers and other service members of the region be environmentally aware and responsible. This needs to be the hallmark of the Army in this area, and clearly follows not only the intent but also specific guidance of the leadership of the Army and the Department of Defense.

News Releases and Articles

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btn_prev.gif 1.18 KAppendix C: NTC Spill Residue Costs
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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias