Senator Boxer Holds Hearings on Military Base Closures

December 10, 1993

By Jeffery Kahn,

As military bases are closed, how can the necessary environmental cleanups be hastened so these sites can be part of the nation's economic redevelopment? That was the question posed by Sen. Barbara Boxer during a Tuesday field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in Alameda.

Boxer noted that all 28 bases slated for closure in California have significant contamination problems that must be resolved before the land can be recycled for other uses. Eight are Superfund sites. "The last thing we want in California is ghost towns," Boxer said. "These sites, many of them prime real estate, will become ghost towns if they are not cleaned up."

Earth Sciences Division Director Sally Benson, who was invited to testify, described a cleanup proposal that would exploit innovative technologies to reclaim the land while simultaneously developing these techniques for commercialization.

Benson said the Alameda Center for Environmental Technology (ACET) partnership would draw upon the expertise of the University of California and its three national laboratories, Bay Area biotech and environmental firms, and area governmental and regulatory agencies. ACET has been developed by the Alameda County Economic Development Advisory Board in concert with Rep. Ron Dellums' East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission.

Describing promising technology under development at LBL, UCB, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories, Benson noted that these institutions already are performing more than $50 million per year in technology research and development for environmental remediation. "Numerous technologies are ready, and with appropriate support, can be made ready for commercialization," Benson said. "Within ACET's first year, an estimated 20 technologies could be readied for commercialization if the necessary financial resources are available and industrial partners are identified."

Benson said both the scope of environmental cleanup facing the nation and the market potential for economic development are enormous. On the one hand, she said, the Department of Defense estimates it will cost $25 billion and take decades to restore more than 10,000 of its sites nationwide, including 2,000 in California.

"On the other hand," she said, "if we accelerate the development of the best, fastest, and most cost-effective environmental technologies, there is a large and growing market to go after--the $200 billion per year global market in environmental products and services."

Currently, North America is both the largest supplier and the largest user of these services, with a total market of about $80 billion. Japan and Germany are the most significant competitors for the U.S. environmental industry, with market shares of $30 billion and $28 billion, respectively.

Also testifying before Boxer was Jim Levine of the consulting engineering firm of Levine-Fricke. Levine praised the ACET proposal. He said ACET not only will help solve some of the more challenging environmental problems through partnerships with the private sector, but it will contribute to economic competitiveness in the 21st century by helping to develop "green manufacturing" and pollution prevention technologies.