The Case for a “Green BRAC” (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Nick Cleveland-Stout, Spring 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

There are several reasons to support another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). BRAC increases savings. Though there are overhead costs, the previous 5 rounds of BRAC combined save around $13 billion annually. BRAC also reduces the excess capacity of the military. The Department of Defense (DoD) estimates their excess capacity is about 20-25%, which is partially why there is broad support for BRAC among the defense community. By reducing excess capacity and increasing savings, BRAC makes the military more efficient and cost-effective. Savings and military efficiency are both important considerations for another round of BRAC, but there should be another one: the environment. 

Environmental remediation is a precondition to economic redevelopment. In past rounds of BRAC, the Pentagon has allowed some former bases to lie fallow because of high environmental remediation costs, meaning some military communities see no economic benefit to their local base closing. However, allowing a base to lie fallow isn’t an effective strategy for properties rife with “forever chemicals” such as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which can end up contaminating the groundwater of nearby communities over time. Instead of allowing properties to sit fallow, former bases should be encouraged to remediate, redevelop, and repeat. If a base is selected for a round of BRAC, DoD will be incentivized to remediate that base until it is fit for a deed transfer. Then, the land can be redeveloped for future economic use by the local military community, as has been done in previous rounds of BRAC. To incorporate environmental considerations into the BRAC process and improve cleanup processes and transparency more broadly, Congress should do the following: 

  1. Consider both environment and savings as secondary criteria, behind military value, for future rounds of BRAC 
  2. Expand the scope of Environmental Condition of Property Reports (ECPs) to include cleanup estimates and measure net known pollutants for each base to better inform the BRAC process 
  3. Create a schedule to begin funding cleanup over time while keeping to the relatively same level of defense spending
  4. Establish a property tax for installations the DoD decides to keep after they are closed to incentivize the Pentagon to remediate and redevelop the property 
  5. Provide further funding to both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Conservative, and Liability Act (CERCLA/Superfund)
  6. Designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals a hazardous substance to bring them into the CERCLA framework