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Peaceful Skies Coalition Comment: United States Air Force F-35A Operational Beddown Air National Guard Environmental Impact Statement

Peaceful Skies Coalition

September 27, 2019

Title of Action:  United States Air Force F-35A Operational Beddown Air National Guard Environmental Impact Statement

Email: usaf.jbanafw.ngb-a4.mbx.a4a-nepa-comments@mail.mil.

To Whom It May Concern:

Peaceful Skies Coalition is submitting these comments on United States Air Force F-35A Operational Beddown Air National Guard Environmental Impact Statement in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. § 4331, et seq., (NEPA). These comments are submitted during the requisite comment period by the Peaceful Skies Coalition (Commenters). The Commenters request that Carol Miller, President of Peaceful Skies Coalition, be placed on the recipient list to receive notice of any developments in this USANG NEPA review process for this proposal and any related documents issued by the USAF or USANG in the course of its NEPA review. The Commenters further request that these comments be included as part of the administrative record.

Five alternative Air National Guard wings were included in this EIS:

  • 115th Fighter Wing (115 FW) at Dane County Regional Airport, Madison, Wisconsin
  • 124th Fighter Wing (124 FW) at Boise Boise Airport, Boise, Idaho
  • 125th Fighter Wing (125 FW) at Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville, Florida
  • 187th Fighter Wing (187 FW) at Montgomery Regional Airport, Montgomery, Alabama
  • 127th Wing (127 WG) at Selfridge Air National Guard Base (ANGB), Michigan

The USAF has identified the 115th FW, Madison, Wisconsin as the preferred alternative for the 5th Operational Beddown and the 187th FW, Montgomery, Alabama as the preferred alternative for the 6th Operational Beddown.

Withdraw the EIS

Because the United States Air Force F-35A Operational Beddown Air National Guard Environmental Impact Statement is incomplete and noncompliant with NEPA, Peaceful Skies Coalition requests that this EIS be withdrawn until such time as a thorough, independent, science and public health focused Environmental Impact Statement is provided to the public for comment.

This EIS is premature and incomplete failing to consider the increasing number of documented problems with the F-35 aircraft. Because of controversies and defects with the F-35 aircraft, special attention must be paid to its public health and environmental impacts. It is becoming clear that F-35 basing is inappropriate for urbanized areas and potentially as a failed aircraft, inappropriate for use anywhere.

The problems extend well beyond the unhealthy noise levels generated the F-35. Unmentioned and unresolved are issues of pilot safety from physiological effects as well as those of ground crews. Added to these are the manufacturing defects which have been brought to public attention by the GAO, Congress, and independent research. Safety failures of the F-35 to-date, require that the DOD address the issue of whether F-35 production and basing should be ended.

Overarching Concern: Failure to Provide a Baseline

Compliance with NEPA requires identifying and recognizing adjacent activities. Commenters believe the DOD does not want the public to learn all of the negative environmental impacts of its activities. The USAF is required to comply with all of the requirements of NEPA assuring an independent and complete EIS.

The public needs information about other current regional and national base, range and airspace changes. Without complete information there is no way to determine the actual impacts that will occur from the proposed F-35A Beddown. It is the position of the Peaceful Skies Coalition that the Department of Defense (DOD) should initiate a Continent-wide analysis of all military flights and training, whether manned or unmanned, by any and all branches of the military. Wildlife, water and air quality, and avian flyways are just a few of the potentially affected natural systems, which exist in very large bioregions not defined by lines drawn on a map around a single base.

Best Scientific Information: All agencies, including the USAF “shall insure the professional integrity, including scientific integrity, of the discussions and analyses in environmental impact statements.” 40 C.F.R. §1502.24. Information “must be of high quality.” 40 C.F.R. § 1500.1(b). Accurate “scientific analysis [is] essential to implementing NEPA.” Id.

All agencies, including the USAF “shall insure the professional integrity, including scientific integrity, of the discussions and analyses in environmental impact statements.” 40 C.F.R. §1502.24. Information “must be of high quality.” 40 C.F.R. § 1500.1(b). Accurate “scientific analysis [is] essential to implementing NEPA.” Id.

Accurate information is needed to allow the tracking of effects and changes that will occur over time. At a minimum, baseline data on locations of wildlife and migratory bird paths, and the current exposure of animal populations and human communities to sudden heightened noise levels is needed in order to properly analyze the impacts (direct, indirect, and cumulative) of the proposed action. Under NEPA, federal agencies must “study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended courses of action in any proposal which involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(E); see also 40 C.F.R. § 1508.9(b). The discussion of reasonable alternatives section is the “heart” of any environmental analysis under NEPA. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.14.

Direct Impacts: A NEPA-compliant EIS must analyze the direct impacts of the proposed action. This includes but is not limited to: impacts to the health and socioeconomic and psychological wellbeing of Native American tribes, other residents of the area, and all those who live in and visit the proposed impacted areas from within the United States and around the world; impacts to livestock and other domestic animals; impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat; impacts to wilderness areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and other environmentally sensitive areas; air quality impacts; impacts to archaeologically, anthropologically, historically, spiritually, and culturally significant areas, impacts to scenic areas, impacts to recreation areas; and impacts to tourism.

Indirect Impacts: The NEPA review process is required to carefully analyze the indirect effects of the proposed action. Indirect effects are effects that are caused by the action but occur later in time or are further removed in distance. See 40 C.F.R. § 1508.8 (b). Indirect effects “may include growth inducing effects and other effects related to induced changes in the pattern of land use, population density or growth rate, and related effects on air and water and other natural systems, including ecosystems.” Id. Here, the indirect effects shall include, but are not limited to, negative socioeconomic impacts, environmental injustice impacts, and the negative impacts to tourism, public health, hunting, and recreation that will result from the proposal.

The NEPA review process requires taking a hard look at the cumulative impacts of the proposed action. A cumulative impact is “the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.7. With respect to the proposed F-35A Beddown, properly analyzing cumulative effects must include: (1) identifying the significant cumulative effects issues associated with the proposed action; (2) establishing the proper geographic scope for the analysis; (3) establishing an appropriate time frame for the analysis; and (4) identifying other actions affecting the resources, ecosystems, and/or human communities of concern. In this case, establishing the proper geographic scope or boundary for a cumulative impacts analysis is extremely important because the proposed action will have direct, indirect, and “additive” effects on resources beyond the immediate area.

To determine the appropriate geographic boundaries for a cumulative effects analysis, therefore, the USAF environmental analysis should first: (1) determine the area and resources that will be affected by their proposed action (the “project impact zone”); (2) make a list of resources within that area or zone that could be affected by the proposed action; and (3) determine the geographic areas occupied by those resources outside the immediate area or project impact zone. In most cases, the largest of these areas will be the appropriate area for the analysis of cumulative effects. By way of example, for resident or migratory wildlife, the appropriate geographic area for the cumulative impacts analysis will be the species habitat or breeding grounds, migration route, wintering areas, or total range of affected population units.

Another important aspect of a cumulative impacts analysis that the USAF will need to consider is an assessment of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions affecting the resources, ecosystems, and/or human communities of concern. According to the CEQ, the “most devastating environmental effects may result not from the direct effects of a particular action, but from the combination of individually minor effects of multiple actions over time.” Council on Environmental Quality, Considering Cumulative Effects Under the National Environmental Policy Act 1 (January 1997).

The requirement to consider cumulative impacts, therefore, is designed to avoid the “combination of individually minor” effects situation – to avoid the “tyranny of small decisions” or death by a thousand cuts scenario. See e.g., Grand Canyon Trust v. FAA, 290 F.3d 339, 346 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

 The USAF must conduct a NEPA review that includes and analyzes state, private, and other federal actions as well as natural occurrences or events that have taken place, are taking place, or proposed to take place that will similarly impact the region’s wildlife populations and habitat, and human communities. Individually, each flyover – though serious – may not rise to the level of posing a significant risk. Collectively, however, the impacts of all of these and other activities – whether conducted by private individuals, state agencies, or other federal agencies – may be significant and must be analyzed. The USAF cannot analyze the direct and indirect effects of the proposed F-35A Beddown in isolation, but must examine the cumulative effects of the proposed project together with all other Department of Defense training areas and operations in and around each alternative location.

Air-to-Ground Operations

Environmental impacts of air-to-ground operations are barely discussed. In addition to flying into and out of commercial airports, in most cases, they also fly to ranges to drop ordnance. Up to 22,000 pounds when fully loaded. A key use of the F-35 is for strafing, defined in the EIS as:

“Strafing involves flying towards and firing at a prescribed strafing target for a short burst of time; however, with a capacity of 182 rounds, strafing by the F-35A would be limited. Altitude and flight profiles while strafing vary with mission, weather, threat, tactics, and other considerations. As is the case for air-to-air and other air-to-ground ordnance training, strafing activities must follow specific rules and procedures identified in AFI 11-214, Air Operations Rules and Procedures, and be employed only on approved ranges. Under the Proposed Action, the ANG F-35A aircraft would primarily employ air-to-ground ordnance and conduct strafing at the following approved ranges: the 115 FW at the Hardwood Range; the 124 FW at the Saylor Creek and Juniper Butte Ranges; the 125 FW at Townsend Bombing Range; the 127 WG at Grayling Range; and the 187 FW at Camp Shelby.” (Page 2-16)

Insufficient Information: Section 3.14 Hazardous Materials and Waste

This section contains only definitions for the types of potential generic hazards possible from the beddown and no specifics or data about what will be used, in what quantities, and how they will be disposed.

Generic Definitions from the EIS, Pages 3-45 to 3-46: When discussed in this document, hazardous materials include petroleum, oils, and lubricants; cleaning agents; adhesives; paints; pesticides; and other products necessary to perform essential functions. Hazardous materials are frequently stored in bulk quantities (e.g., fuels, petroleum, oils, lubricants) in aboveground and underground           storage tanks and distributed with pumps and pipelines. Fueling operations to support aircraft, watercraft, vehicle operations, and power generation require the storage of bulk   quantities of these petroleum, oils, and lubricants. The storage areas for petroleum, oils,     and lubricants represent potential sources of leaks, releases, or spills. Other types of hazardous materials (e.g., paints, pesticides, adhesives, cleaning agents) are frequently stored and distributed in smaller quantities such as drums, buckets, and bottles.

Hazardous wastes may take the form of a solid, liquid, contained gas, or semi-solid. In general, any combination of wastes that poses a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment that has been discarded or abandoned may be a hazardous waste.

Toxic substances may present unreasonable risk of personal injury or health of the environment. They include asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), lead-based paint (LBP), polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs), and radon.

Other Hazardous Materials Excluded from the EIS: PFAs/PFOs and Toxic On-Base Housing

Given the current focus on identifying and remediating legacy and current leaks of toxic chemicals into on-base and off-base water systems and communities, much more assessment and research is needed to assure that the EIS contains the best and most current science. PFAs/PFOs (Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as perfluorinated chemicals) are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s. The public and Congress are aware of and highly distressed about the PFAs/PFOs in water supplies and frighteningly in the blood of exposed persons. Other on-base exposures include unsafe and toxic housing.

Nuclear Capability: Transport to Base, Radiation Exposure, Handling, Storage and Disposal

Using a word search program, the word “radiation” never appears in the EIS despite the fact that the F-35 was designed with the capability to carry the B61-12 nuclear bomb. This nuclear warfare capability has caused intense public outcry especially in Nuclear Free Zones like the State of Vermont and “preferred alternative” Madison, Wisconsin.

Lt. General Chris Bogdan testified to the House Armed Services Committee that “a series of test flights were conducted to assess the vibration, acoustic, and thermal environments of the F-35A weapons bay with the B61-12 weapon. Brig. General Scott Pleus, testified that arming the F-35 with the nuclear bomb will require some extra training for pilots, but nothing out of the ordinary from their usual regimen” (https://www.military.com/defensetech/2017/01/10/f-35-carry-b61-nuclear-warhead-sooner-planned).

The statements of Generals Bogdan and Pleus are quite different from assurances that are reported to have been made to elected officials in Wisconsin that nuclear weapons will not be part of the F-35 beddown in Madison. However, missions are known to change, ordnance is known to change and military leadership rotates relatively quickly. The AF needs to include nuclear capability into all NEPA actions involving the F-35. Leadership can’t testify in Congress one way and tell base communities the exact opposite. This omission is another reason to withdraw this EIS and provide a comprehensive EIS at some time in the future.

Summary

An EIS is required to provide information sufficient to analyze the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the proposed action. It must consider quality of life, lost productivity, impacts on learning at affected schools, property values and other economic impacts as they apply to each community.

The document at hand has failed to provide to provide a comprehensive assessment or develop a baseline. This makes it impossible to determine any possible cumulative impacts or how any might be mitigated before causing harm to human health or the environment.

These comments are submitted on United States Air Force F-35A Operational Beddown Air National Guard Environmental Impact Statement. The mission of the Peaceful Skies Coalition is to participate in this and other important decisions affecting public resources in United States. We believe the public needs to be informed about how much airspace, how many flights, how much pollution, and how much money is literally burned overhead by the DOD and that when that is exposed, the public will demand that military airspace and training be reduced and not expanded.

Other interested parties will submit longer and more detailed critiques of specifics regarding this document. Peaceful Skies Coalition has determined that the document is so flawed that it should be withdrawn from consideration at this time. The Coalition believes that individual potentially affected communities deserve a complete assessment of all possible impacts.

We hope you find these comments to be helpful, informative, and useful in your efforts to comply with the NEPA and other substantive statutes. If you have any questions or comments, or wish to discuss the issues raised in this comment on United States Air Force F-35A Operational Beddown Air National Guard Environmental Impact Statement in greater detail, please do not hesitate to contact the Peaceful Skies Coalition representative listed below.

Sincerely,

Carol Miller, President