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EPA orders Army to clean up Louisiana explosives

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Federal environmental officials have rejected an appeal from the U.S. Army and reiterated their order to clean up 15 million pounds of artillery propellant improperly stored at a northwest Louisiana site.

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Army to take charge of the M6 propellant, which it had shipped to now-defunct Explo Systems at Camp Minden, a Louisiana National Guard installation. The Army appealed.

In its rejection of the appeal Wednesday, the EPA wrote that the Army was responsible because it shouldn't have trusted that Explo could process and resell so much of the propellant.

"The Army should have exercised due care to ensure that all the relevant safety requirements were being met and that the demilitarization process was being safely conducted, the M6 propellant was being handled and stored properly and that the M6 propellant was sold to licensed recipients," the EPA wrote in its response to the Army's objections.

The Army must respond by July 26. Spokesman Dave Foster said Friday that the Army would respond to the EPA "within a few days."

"The U.S. Army is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to attempt to resolve the situation in an agreement with all the involved federal and state agencies," he wrote in an email.

An investigator discovered the propellant after an October 2012 explosion. Explo later filed for bankruptcy and six of its employees were criminally charged. Of those, three lower-level employees have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.

The EPA says three private owners — General Dynamics Corp., Alliant Techsystems and Ashland Inc. unit Hercules — are cleaning up their share. General Dynamics and Alliant are removing 2.7 million pounds, while Hercules is removing 600,000 pounds.

EPA spokesman Joe Hubbard said Friday that the Louisiana National Guard also bears responsibility for some material.

Assistant Army Secretary Katherine Hammack met Thursday with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and local and state representatives to discuss the situation.

"I urge the Army to quickly notify the EPA of its intent to comply with the order," Landrieu said in a statement after the meeting.

U.S. Sen David Vitter, R-La., in a letter to Hammack dated Thursday, said he would block Senate confirmation of Alissa M. Starzak to be general counsel of the Department of the Army until the Army agrees to clean up the M6.

In a letter to Landrieu, local leaders renewed their proposal to build a specialized incinerator on the site to destroy the explosives. They hope that such an incinerator could be used to burn other explosives in the future.

The EPA has pushed for it to be moved elsewhere for disposal or reuse. Though Explo wanted to reuse the M6, the market for the material, at least in its current condition, is doubtful. As part of Explo's bankruptcy proceeding, Brakefield Equipment agreed to buy 2.6 million pounds of M6 that Explo had stored at another company's facility in Camden, Arkansas. But the Louisiana National Guard failed in its effort last year to sell or transfer any of the material at Camp Minden.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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