The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 14, 2014

Defense bureau reverses ban on military surplus

HARRISBURG — The federal Department of Defense has lifted a short-lived moratorium that stopped the flow of surplus military equipment to local fire, police and other agencies.

In late June, state officials were alerted that they would no longer get the surplus military equipment because the Department of Defense and Environmental Protection Agency had agreed to enforce 25-year-old pollution rules focused on diesel engines.

The surplus program provided $150 million a year in surplus equipment for wildfire fighting alone. There is more than $20 million worth of firefighting equipment in use in Pennsylvania that came to the state as surplus from the U.S. military, according to data provided by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The state agency estimated that about one-sixth of volunteer fire departments in Pennsylvania have tapped into the surplus program.

But that was just one of the streams that the federal government has used to recycle old equipment. Some of the heavy equipment goes to local police, and some of it goes to road crews to be repurposed as snow plows and for other uses, state Department of General Services spokesman Troy Thompson said last week.

Under the new agreement, the surplus equipment will be provided to local fire and law enforcement units, but the federal government will retain ownership.

Once the local agency has no use for the equipment, it will be returned to the defense department. The equipment will then be destroyed.

That solution doesn’t satisfy everyone.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, praised the DOD and EPA for making the equipment available. But the need to track the equipment and return it to the federal government will create needless “red tape,” Inhofe said.

A spokesman for DCNR said that the details of the new agreement are still unclear, so state officials aren’t sure exactly how the new system will work.


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