The U.S. military has a multitude of installations and facilities of all sizes stationed throughout all 54 U.S. states and territories. All installations and commands within the Department of Defense (DoD) must comply with environmental laws and regulations enacted or promulgated at the federal, state and local level. The myriad of environmental requirements applicable to military operations and facilities has grown many-fold in recent decades. The vast majority of these requirements are established and enforced by the states.
Within the 50 states, there are 173 regulatory agencies that establish rules implementing 1850 separate programs. In a typical year, the states introduce approximately 5200 environmental and related bills. In addition, there are 3,200 new rules (including amendments to existing rules) under development among the states at any given time. Staying current on compliance requirements is a significant challenge for the DoD due in large part to this decentralized and dynamic environment in which new laws, regulations and policy are established.
In the early 1990s, the Department formally recognized that the burden placed on individual military installations and commands to stay current with all environmental requirements was a significant mission in itself. Furthermore, if this responsibility was born by each installation independently, the law and rule monitoring process was being replicated at each installation in a given state – leading to inefficiencies and possible misinterpretations that could cause gaps in compliance.
Why a DoD REC Program
To effectively deal with a decentralized enactment and enforcement structure of the states, the Department determined it needed “representatives in the field” specifically focused on monitoring development of environmental laws and regulations in each state, communicating new compliance requirements up and down the military chain of command, and the ensuring effective communication between DoD entities and the states, as well as regional elements of federal agencies that adopt and enforce environmental requirements.
In 1995, the Department of Defense formally created a Regional Environmental Coordination (or REC) program with the issuance of DoD Instruction 4715.02. The objectives of this program was to ensure continuity of compliance; achieve efficiencies in the way DoD monitored state laws and rules; share lessons learned and best management practices among military installations and commands; monitor the equitable application of state rules to DoD installations; and for the Department to have a mechanism ”to speak with one voice” to the multitude of state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as the legislative and executive branches of state government in a designated geographic area.
The DoD Instruction identifies 10 geographic areas in the U.S. where a DoD REC is to be designated and then further assigns several regions to each of the Services. It is left to the Services to determine who would be the DoD RECs in their assigned geographic areas of responsibility (AOR). The map on the REC Homepage depicts these 10 regions, which coincide with the regions used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Navy chose to assign the DoD REC mission to their respective area commands. The Air Force already had existing regional environmental offices in Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco. So, these offices were assigned the DoD REC mission. The Army stood up new structure to accomplish the REC mission. The Army’s Regional Environmental Offices were stationed in the same cities as the EPA Regional Offices (i.e., Atlanta, Kansas City and Denver) with the exception of the Northern office, which was located at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The Army Northern REO maintained a separate field office in Chicago to cover Region 5. But, over time, this proved unsustainable.
How the program works
All of the Services maintain regional environmental offices. These offices perform a variety of functions for their respective branch of Service. Oftentimes, they have Service responsibility for multiple regions. The Chief or Director of each office usually is designated as the DoD REC for a particular region, with one exception. In geographic Areas of Responsibility (AOR) where the Navy performs the DoD REC function, the Navy Area Commander (usually an Admiral) is the DoD REC. The Environmental chief of the Navy area command directly supports the Admiral in performing his/her DoD REC responsibilities.
In all of the Services, the DoD REC function is an additional duty. The DoD REC does not have a “command” relationship with military entities in his/her AOR. Rather, the REC performs a “coordination” role with the installations of multiple Services. Assisting the DoD REC are the Service RECs for a particular geographic AOR. Typically, it would be one of these Service RECs who would bring a matter to the DoD REC for coordination of a joint position on the issue, and communication of a “DoD position” to state or federal officials.
An example of an action where the DoD REC has the lead would be requesting state legislation to help alleviate a significant threat to sustainability such as incompatible land use (a.k.a. encroachment). Another example would be coordination of various environmental forums involving all DoD entities in the region or state (e.g., DoD-State Military Environmental Groups or P2 Partnerships). A third example would be coordination of DoD input to a NEPA action impacting more than one installation and branch of service in the AOR.
How to obtain assistance
Begin with the interactive map on the DoD REC Home page. Find your state and select the appropriate region. The DoD REC for that region is identified along with relevant contact information.