Watchdog group Not 1 More Acre! filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act today seeking to hold the Pentagon accountable for massive undisclosed environmental damages at the Army’s Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) in southern Colorado that are now triggering catastrophic dust storms across the Southern Great Plains.
Not 1More Acre! filed the request with the U.S. Army Environmental Command (USAEC)
at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and with the Army’s Fort Carson installation, one of the users of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site with responsibility for scheduling and managing the remote 236,000-acre site located at the ‘headwinds’ of the 1930’s American Dust Bowl. The demand for information came as military use of Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site is aggravating dust storms that are now ravaging the drought-stricken Southern Great Plains.
Despite a federal court order invalidating the Pentagon’s proposed Transformation use of the maneuver site four years ago, the Army has continued to use and to schedule others to use the site in violation of the public disclosure requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. This pattern of secret and unreported abuse has caused N1MA! to invoke the Freedom of Information Act, a public disclosure law designed to “prevent the government from taking our world apart piece by piece without the public knowing about it,” according to Denver Attorney Misty Ewegen, who filed the FOIA request on behalf of the watchdog group.
Not 1 More Acre! is dedicated to using federal and state freedom of information laws, and the courtroom to shine light on government activities.
“Taxpayers have the right to know how the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site is being used and how it is being ripped up. Instead of disclosing this information to the public, the Army continues to issue one sham document after the next and conduct one ridiculous site tour after another to hide the bald-faced fact that the military use of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site is triggering the next Dust Bowl,” N1MA! President Jean Aguerre said.
Since 2006, the Pentagon has issued more than twenty documents proposing expansion of transformation combat training across the grasslands, which are well documented as one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the world. The Pentagon’s electronic war training plans – many of which are already underway – include battalion and brigade level field maneuvers involving integrated weapons systems, a new $3.5 billion dollar Heavy Combat Aviation Brigade, armored vehicles, tracked tanks, artillery, drones, Ospreys, Chinook, Blackhawk and Apache Longbow III attack helicopters with dismounted training of multiple, special operations and joint force units.
The Pentagon’s plans are particularly damaging because they are concentrated in the fragile grassland areas identified by Fritz L. Knopf, a Great Plains historical ecologist, as the “headwinds” of the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
The epicenter of Dust Bowl impact is generally considered to be the Boise City, Oklahoma area, 170 miles ESE (downwind) of PCMS. The impact of heavy military equipment, including armored units, on the 236,000 acres of shortgrass prairie at the PCMS lead to an ecological shift from a deep-rooted, wind-resistant, soil-protecting vegetative cover to a shallow-rooted flora prone to severe wind erosion. In turn, the loss of those deep-rooted cover plants causes cascading ecological devastation. As soils blow, surrounding dust devils form and join forces thus sending still more Dust Bowl lands metastasizing across vast expanses of earth.
Knopf and other scientists have documented that the semi-arid climate of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico “makes bare soil extremely vulnerable to the effects of drought and wind erosion, twin conditions that set the stage for the American “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, when topsoil exposed following large-scale agricultural plowing resulted in severe dust storms that caused catastrophic ecological damage throughout the region. With many areas of the Southern Great Plains in the grip of severe drought, climatic conditions today are similar to those experienced during the Dust Bowl.
“That’s why N1MA! has fought so hard for public disclosure of activities at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. There are two great pillars of public disclosure in federal law – the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The last three actions filed by N1MA! were under NEPA. Now, we’re turning again to the other great tool for public disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act,” Aguerre said.
In the past two months, N1MA! used NEPA procedures to file three challenges against theArmy’s Piñon Canyon environmental disclosures. A May 15 action filed in N1MA!’s behalf by the Ewegen Law Firm challenged the Army’s “Programmatic Environmental Assessment and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact for the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan 2013 – 2017 for Fort Carson and the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.”
On Tax Day, April 15, N1MA! challenged the Army’s environmental assessment
Just three weeks earlier, on March 21, N1MA! protested the Army’s claim that ongoing and expanded operations at the already badly degraded PCMS pose no significant environmental impacts. N1MA! challenge called those findings a “bizarre greenwash of an ongoing assault on fragile prairie grasslands in an area that scientists describe as the ‘headwinds’ of the 1930s Dust Bowl.”
Now, following that trio of NEPA challenges, N1MA! is again turning to the Freedom of Information Act demanding Army bring to light information that is hidden from the public at great peril.
“This Freedom of Information Act request is about the public’s right to know and to shape the future. We’re working to stop the government from destroying the Southern Great Plains, with its vast grasslands, family ranches, rural communities, abundant wildlife and cultural treasures — one of the few great wild open places remaining since bad government policy ushered in the 1930s Dust Bowl.”
“Using the Freedom of Information Act, we are demanding the facts that the public needs to hold the Pentagon, its contractors and politicians accountable for perpetrating disaster on the last intact shortgrass prairie in the American Great Plains,” Aguerre said.