August 16, 2005

U.S. states await Pennsylvania base closure suit

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Pennsylvania's governor will argue
in federal court next week that the Pentagon's plan to close a
military base near Philadelphia is unconstitutional because he
has ultimate authority over state militias and he was not

The case will be closely watched by other U.S states
affected by the program because it could set a precedent for
other governors unhappy with Washington's plans to shut or
scale back bases.

U.S. District Judge John Padova will hear the case -- filed
by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell against Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and Pennsylvania's Republican Senators Arlen Specter
and Rick Santorum -- on Tuesday.

The suit, the first of its kind to make it to court,
contends that the U.S. Defense Department violated the U.S.
Constitution by failing to obtain Rendell's consent before
publishing plans to close Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint
Reserve Base, at a cost of more than 1,200 jobs.

The closure is part of a plan announced in May to shut or
cut back 837 facilities in all 50 states, the first program of
domestic base reductions in a decade, and one more severe than
four previous rounds.

Illinois has also sued the Pentagon over the plan, citing
federal laws preventing changes to National Guard units without
the consent of the state's governor. Missouri has threatened
similar action, saying Rumsfeld has "run roughshod" over
states' Constitutional rights to run militias.

Closing Willow Grove would deactivate the 111th Fighter
Wing, which must be "available to me as governor to perform
state active-duty missions dealing with homeland security,
natural disasters and other state missions," Rendell told the
Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission in July.

Rendell also argues that Willow Grove is in a strategically
important location between New York and Washington, so its
forces can respond quickly to future attacks on those cities.

Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood declined to
comment on the challenges by Pennsylvania and other states.

Members of the BRAC Commission, an independent body
reviewing the Pentagon's plan, cast doubt on the savings that
would result, saying the projected $48.8 billion cost
reductions over 20 years are probably overstated by almost 50
percent, The New York Times reported on Sunday after interviews
with seven of the commission members.