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Sidebar: Endangered Species Exemption

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Sen. John McCain’s 2003 vote to exempt Fort Huachuca from a key provision of the Endangered Species Act was contrary to his usual advice to fellow members of Congress. He is known to tels colleagues that they should not give special protections to a local military base if it faces closure.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) had attached the ESA exemption for the southern Arizona fort to a defense appropriations bill. McCain was in position to remove Renzi’s amendment when the bill reached a House-Senate conference committee. He had been pressed by environmentalists to kill the measure because it would threaten a celebrated wildlife area along the San Pedro River, just east of the fort.

Instead, McCain backed the ESA exemption — which helped save Fort Huachuca from expected downsizing during the 2005 base closures. There is little doubt that McCain wouldn’t have known that his vote would shield the base from the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Renzi, along with retired Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-AZ, who represented Fort Huachuca, called the ESA exemption the "Fort Huachuca Preservation Amendment." Fort Huachuca supporters ran a full-page newspaper ad in Sierra Vista, urging McCain to vote for the ESA exemption.

McCain co-sponsored legislation in 2001 that authorized the commission to recommend a list of military installations to be closed or downsized. At that time, McCain urged his colleagues to "to put aside local politics for what is clearly in the best interest of our military forces."

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