Man, the Navy just isn’t getting any respect these days. They haven’t won (much less fought in) anything remotely resembling a classic ship-on-ship engagement in nearly 70 years, which I just had the temerity to point out. They’re also catching hell from environmentalists over the number of marine mammals they say their training exercises over the next five years will injure or kill in Hawaii waters. But even when the service makes an effort to behave in an environmentally responsible manner, they get knocked upside the head.
I’m speaking of the Navy’s well-publicized move to use 900,000 gallons of biofuel (it’s actually a 50/50 blend of petroleum and biofuel, but that’s beside the point) in its upcoming Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) fleet exercises. Because of the biofuel, the Navy is now referring to his ships as the “Great Green Fleet,” a play on President Theodore Roosevelt’s imperialist Great White Fleet from more than a century ago.
“The Navy has been at the forefront of energy innovation throughout its history,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in this June 13 Navy press release. “From sail to coal-fired steam to oil and nuclear powered submarines and carriers, we have sought and achieved technological advancement in how we power the fleet because it has made us better warfighters. The Great Green Fleet demonstration is a significant milestone in the Navy’s progress to greater energy security.”
It sounds great, but that doesn’t mean the Sierra Club is pleased. In fact, they’re so pissed that the Navy will sink three old ships as part of the upcoming RIMPAC (known as the Sinking Exercise or SINKEX) that the organization–represented by Earthjustice–recently filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (not the Navy), alleging that the federal agency is not enforcing the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act.
“The ships are contaminated with toxic heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) based on documentation of known contaminants found in more than 100 ships previously sunk by the Navy over the past twelve years,” states a June 28 Sierra Club press release. “According to environmental groups, sinking–instead of recycling–these ships will send toxic chemicals into the marine environment and needlessly deprive[s] the U.S. ship recycling industry of both resources and jobs.”
For the Navy’s part, they deny that the ships they sink during RIMPAC pose any threat to the marine environment.
“The Navy said all the SINKEX vessels are prepared in accordance with a permit issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on June 29. “Each ship ‘is put through a rigorous cleaning process,’ including the removal of PCBs, transformers and large capacitors, small capacitors to the greatest extent practical, trash, floatable materials and materials containing mercury or fluorocarbons, the service said.”
Colby Self of the Basel Action Network, which is part of the Sierra Club lawsuit, isn’t buying it.
“The hypocrisy of the Navy’s new ecological ‘Great Green Fleet’ demonstrating its ‘greenness’ by sinking ships containing globally banned pollutants off the coast of Hawaii is particularly ironic,” Self is quoted as saying in the Sierra Club press release. “But the realization that this choice by the Navy to dump poisons into the marine environment is not only unnecessary, but also is costing Americans hundreds of green recycling jobs, makes this SINKEX program both an environmental and an economic insult.”
Click here and scroll down to read the complaint against the EPA.
Photo: Andrew Betting/US Navy