Record budget helps Air Force tackle environmental issues

  • Published
  • By Natalia Perez
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

The Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center is bringing this year’s “Invest in Our Planet” Earth Day theme to life as the center’s global environmental team continues to support innovative restoration projects driven by a record-high budget. 

For fiscal year 2023, Congress allocated $749 million for Department of the Air Force environmental restoration actions. Within AFIMSC’s Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the environmental directorate is putting $574 million to work at active installations while the Base Realignment and Closure program spends $175 million for restoration at closed installations. 

"We are grateful for the continued support which has allowed us to fund critical environmental projects across the enterprise," said Kenny Johnson, AFCEC environmental restoration program management chief. "With these funds, we can continue to invest in sustainable practices that benefit both our mission and our planet."

This year’s increased funding includes money from the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act in the amounts of $315 million for active installations and $107 million for BRAC operations. These amounts were combined with later congressional disbursements in the amounts of $259 million for active installations and $68 million for BRAC teams. These allocations support an enterprise-wide push surrounding environmental justice initiatives and Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS, actions. Nearly 24 percent of the active and 42 percent of the BRAC budgets are dedicated to PFAS-related activities. 

The latest congressional budget for BRAC is the largest allocated since 2014 and includes $74 million to address PFAS requirements including an accelerated start to remedial investigations at McClellan Air Force Base in California and Eaker Air Force Base in Arkansas. The finds from the increased budget are also paying operation and maintenance fees on drinking water treatment systems and non-drinking water PFAS groundwater treatment systems where the Air Force is the system owner. 

“We are proud of the positive impact this program has had on the environment and the communities surrounding our closed bases,” said Monico Luna, BRAC program branch chief. “By investing in the planet through environmental restoration programs, the Air Force is fulfilling its duty to current and future generations and prioritizing the preservation of the environment.”

At active installations, the increased environmental budget is translating into more focused efforts to engage all community members in the restoration process. Erin Simpson leads AFCEC’s Optimized Remediation Contract team and said nearly $2 million has already been put into action as the organization works to modify current and upcoming environmental restoration contracts to incorporate a robust environmental justice strategy into community involvement plans and outreach activities. 

"This additional funding is critical to our program in light of increasing concerns for PFAS-impacted installations and communities, including environmental justice considerations," she said. "It reflects the importance the country is placing on the protection of American communities and the environment."

Restoration activities are not the only programs benefiting from the increased budget. Within AFCEC's Installations Directorate is the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program, which creates cost-sharing partnerships between the Air Force and outside environmental organizations to address environmental concerns near installations while maintaining necessary infrastructure.

The REPI program is funding a $6.48 million coastal resiliency project along the Mississippi shoreline at Keesler Air Force Base to prevent runways from washing away and flightlines from becoming unusable due to storm surges. To combat this critical mission issue, Keesler AFB partnered with Mississippi State University through the National Coastal Resilience Fund to implement restorative measures by creating a living shoreline made of local vegetation and materials.

Apart from coastal ecosystems, AFCEC environmental programs also invest in preserving threatened and endangered wildlife like the Sonoran Pronghorn to ensure continued Air Force mission readiness. The Pronghorn population at Barry M. Goldwater Range, Arizona, was nearly wiped out until AFCEC's natural resources team stepped in to support a monitoring and recovery project. Katherine Zander, AFCEC Natural Resources program manager at Nellis Air Force Base, oversees the Sonoran Pronghorn project and is quick to highlight the strides that have been made in a short amount of time. 

“(Our team), along with cooperative agencies, have brought the Sonoran Pronghorn back from literally the brink of extinction in less than 20 years,” she said. “I cannot express enough praise and appreciation for the efforts they have put into such a successful program.”

As the halfway point of FY23 looms on the other side of Earth Day, AFCEC leaders are analyzing early successes funded by the record budget and looking forward to further growth within environmental programs across the Department of the Air Force.

“We have seen great advancements within our organization and that is very encouraging,” said Col. Paul Fredin, AFCEC Environmental Management deputy director.  “The investments we are making in our installations, in our people and in our environment are going to shape our success for many years to come.”