ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill that would exempt the military from a ban on accidental killing of migratory birds, as well as some other environmental laws.
Supporters of the measure say ever-increasing limitations on when and where troops may train makes exercises less realistic and threatens military readiness.
Environmentalists and House Democrats say laws already permit exemptions in the name of national security. They say the Bush administration is using the war on terrorism as an excuse to roll back environmental laws.
''Wrapping the flag around this anti-environmental agenda is not only unpatriotic, it is irresponsible,'' Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., told the Anchorage Daily News.
Other members of Congress said environmental laws have gotten out of hand.
Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said that at California's Camp Pendleton, for example, the Marines are restricted from using certain areas out of concern for the endangered California gnat catcher, the tidewater goby, fairy shrimp and rare plants.
''What remains is an impossibly truncated mishmash of the land available for combat training,'' he said.
The proposals, part of the annual defense authorization bill about the be considered by the House, would give the military more leeway in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. The Pentagon also sought exemptions from four other environmental laws, but members of the House Armed Services Committee said they hadn't had enough time to consider all of them.
The migratory bird protection law already allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits to intentionally kill birds for hunting and other purposes. For example, Elmendorf Air Force Base has a permit to shoot ducks, geese, ravens and other species to make its runways safer for aircraft.
Supporters say the changes would allow a similar permit program for accidental killings during military exercises.
Opponents say the exemption would give the military a blank check to kill migratory birds and destroy nests in the course of its exercises, with no accountability.
The bill would change the Endangered Species Act to preclude military lands from being designated as critical habitat for an endangered species as long as the military is following a resource management plan. It's an arrangement the Fish and Wildlife Service now permits at its discretion.
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