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The first phase of developing an Environmental Management System for military bases is complete, says Lt. Col. Dean Levi, environmental officer for Marine bases in Japan.
The first phase of developing an Environmental Management System for military bases is complete, says Lt. Col. Dean Levi, environmental officer for Marine bases in Japan. (David Allen / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marines on Okinawa are well on their way to developing a prototype for a federally mandated Environmental Management System.

The first phase of the system in Japan — an examination of Marine resources on camps Foster and Lester and Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, detailing how to better address environmental concerns — already is complete, said Lt. Col. Dean Levi, Marine Corps Bases environmental officer.

“This is a great tool designed to examine potential environmental problems and the environmental impact of what we do on Marine bases,” Levi said. It “helps us prioritize our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of what we do.”

One important aspect of the system Levi developed is an 80-page manual, to help other agencies just now preparing to create their own plans.

“The key … was to come up with … data … that showed us exactly what we are doing to the environment and how to protect it,” said Joe Vogel, the deputy environmental officer.

Every facility on the three bases examined environmental issues involved in their areas. For example, the environmental personnel worked closely with motor pools examining how bases handled such things as oil spills and recycling tires.

Issues identified then were listed by environmental impact, Vogel said, and detailed plans drafted on how to reduce that impact.

“It’s not just the job of the environmental officers,” he said. “It’s everybody’s job. When we do this, our guys work closely with the people in the field who know the technology better than we do. For example, the guys in motor transport attend classes on such issues as tire recycling.”

The system examines issues both critical, such as how to prevent hazardous chemical run-off into the island’s water system, and simple, such as figuring out how to help office workers better recycle paper.

“When you figure out your priorities, you know where best to focus your efforts,” Vogel said.

Another plus, he said, is that the system changes the focus from complying with environmental standards to surpassing them. “The whole key is to come up with ways we can get better at protecting the environment,” Vogel said.

An executive order signed by President Bush mandates that every federal facility adopt an Environmental Management System by Dec. 31, 2005.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency sent a specialist to Okinawa for three months to help devise the system for Marine bases in Japan. It was such a success that the plan developed by Levi and his team is now the prototype for Marine bases worldwide.

It is based closely on the strict International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, requirements adopted by Japan. That gives U.S. forces instant credibility with the Japanese, Vogel said. “It’s given us a better tool to use in talks with the prefectural government.”

Levi said he plans to have the system’s second phase — collecting data for the other Marine bases in Japan — finished by the end of the year.

“This is not completely new,” he said. “We’ve had a form of an EMS in effect here for years. This is just a new, better way of approaching it. Again, it’s a whole new concept that moves us forward from merely complying with environmental standards to figuring out how we can improve this.”

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