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for immediate release: Wednesday 2 July, 2008

DoD Unsure of Ability to Comply with Congressionally-Mandated 2017 Destruction Deadline

In its June 2008 "Semi-Annual Report to Congress" the Pentagon has again resurrected the concept of transporting chemical weapons across state lines, a practice currently prohibited by federal law, as a way of shortening the weapons disposal schedule. 

The international Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty mandates disposal of chemical weapons by 2012, but in April of last year the Department of Defense (DoD), acknowledged that date is not feasible and proposed stretching out completion until 2023. Reacting to such an extended program, Congress subsequently mandated a deadline of December 31, 2017, a date selected based on DoD documents indicating a capability to achieve that goal. Now, the DoD says that even this deadline does not appear possible, but "remains under study".

In the Pentagon's most recent report, one option of three offered to try to expedite weapons destruction in order to comply with the 2017 deadline is to "Transport Portions of the Stockpile to Operational Chemical Weapons Destruction Facilities Locations." This option would require the following movement of chemical munitions over a three-year period:
o Colorado's stockpile to Utah and Oregon;
o Kentucky's stockpile to Alabama and Arkansas; and
o Oregon's bulk-chemical agent storage containers to Utah.

It would also require "construction of a neutralization facility at the Deseret Chemical Depot, Utah to destroy the bulk items transported from Oregon as well as those existing in the current [Utah] stockpile."

The Report indicates that, without transporting any weapons if destruction is expedited, the five sites managed by the Chemical Materials Agency (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Oregon and Utah) operations could be completed by the 2017 deadline and states that it "appears possible" for the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) site in Colorado to make that date. However, according to the Report, it "does not appear possible" for the Kentucky ACWA site to reach that deadline, although both schedules "remain under study."

Chemical Weapons Working Group Director, Craig Williams said, "We're sick and tired of the Pentagon creating delays by cutting the funding for the project or changing their mind on acceleration initiatives and then repeatedly telling the people of Kentucky that deadlines can't be met. 

It's well past the time for excuses - we're dealing with weapons of mass destruction here - not some military pet project. The risk of continuing to store these weapons demands a 'Can Do' approach to their disposal by both the government and the contractors."  

According to an ACWA Program information document accompanying the Report, a complete assessment and review of their two sites will accompany the President's 2010 budget request submitted to Congress in February of next year.

Regarding transportation, Williams said, "It's difficult to fathom why the Pentagon is once again proposing the shipment of these deadly weapons over U.S. highways when it has always been considered too great a risk for our citizens. Besides, no state wants to accept more weapons than they already have."

In a statement issued yesterday, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, "I believe the transportation risks of moving these weapons across state lines outweigh the benefits. We cannot sacrifice safety and security for expediency."

Ross Vincent, a member of the Colorado Citizens Advisory Commission said, "We have always supported on-site treatment of the Colorado stockpile and that remains our position. We also believe 2017 can be achieved everywhere if the Pentagon wants it to happen. If they don't, they need to explain why."