Deep inside the belly of the Pentagon, past the corridors where the brass design New-Age missiles or track the latest moves in Bosnia, Sherri Goodman charges forth on an unlikely mission: promoting natural-gas vehicles and other up-to-date environmental technologies.
As deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security, Goodman is responsible for, among other tasks, maintaining high standards of pollution prevention equipment at U.S. military bases and other Defense Department facilities.
With state-of-the-art environmental technologies constantly changing, and military bases worldwide pushing their own demands, Goodman is bringing a new culture to a department not often viewed as environmentally correct or “green.”
“My job is to look at our facilities and try to find ways they can use alternative-fuel vehicles and anti-pollution devices, and ways to get rid of ozone-polluting substances,” she said.
“Besides the environmental considerations, I’m also looking out to see that the department gets the best value for the money it spends.”
The Defense Department has long had an environmental watchdog section, but the Clinton Administration has significantly upgraded and expanded it. Although the agency has a staff of only 118, the Office of Environmental Security’s overall budget of $5.7 billion rivals that of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The office also has a broad reach. Beyond overseeing environmental standards at bases worldwide, it is charged with the cleanup of closed Defense Department bases, the upkeep of Defense Department lands in the public trust, overhauling contaminated defense facilities and guaranteeing the department’s compliance with federal environmental laws.
With a wide range of bases closed across the country in 1993, and others slated for closure this year, the cleanup of defunct military facilities has become one of the office’s top priorities.
The object of the cleanup process, Goodman said, is to get the bases to the point where they can be leased and used as commercial facilities. With toxic dumps and munitions buried on some sites, cleanup sometimes can involve complicated soil and water cleansing.
One practice Goodman favors is using plastic beads to strip the paint off F-16s and other aircraft. The process, recently introduced at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, is conducted by robots. Under the old process, maintenance crews used paint-stripping solvents. Because the beads can be recycled, they are considered more environmentally sound.
Other environmentally efficient technologies that Goodman supports include using natural-gas-powered vehicles and machines that wash equipment parts with citron-based cleanser instead of toxic solvents. Both methods are employed at some U.S. military bases, but their use should be expanded, Goodman said.
Goodman, 35, apparently arrived prepared to oversee the cleanups. Before joining the Clinton Administration, she was a Boston-based environmental lawyer specializing in hazardous-waste cases. She served earlier as an aide to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
To help jump the hurdles involved in cleaning up Defense Department sites--addressing public concerns about cleanup activities near neighborhoods, for example--Goodman’s office typically brings together a coalition of parties to develop a workable plan. The group often includes officials from the Defense Department and EPA as well as state agencies and leaders in the communities around the bases.
One Environmental Security office task that seems to range far afield from usual Defense Department operations is protecting endangered species. As landlord of hundreds of thousands of acres of Western lands, the Defense Department also is viewed as protector of the endangered birds and animals that roam across them. Officers at Ft. Irwin Army Base in California changed their tank training venues and rearranged some of their facilities to keep from unsettling the habitat of the desert tortoise, an endangered species.