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Pentagon Puts Missile Silo Decommissioning Study on Hold

Minuteman 1 and Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles on display in 2011 near F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. The Pentagon announced on Thursday it was halting a study on decommissioning some Minuteman silos amid protests by some lawmakers that such an assessment was legally prohibited. Minuteman 1 and Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles on display in 2011 near F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. The Pentagon announced on Thursday it was halting a study on decommissioning some Minuteman silos amid protests by some lawmakers that such an assessment was legally prohibited. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Pentagon on Thursday said it was pausing work on a study about mothballing some of its silo-based strategic missiles following an uproar from lawmakers.

A defense official said the environmental assessment was being halted while a legal review takes place to determine if the Pentagon has the authority to conduct the study, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

Congress in a fiscal 2014 appropriations bill forbade the Defense Department from using any budgeted funds to analyze the environmental implications of decommissioning missile silos. Last month, though, the Pentagon said it had requested an environmental assessment, which would be a first step in determining whether a more exhaustive environmental impact study is appropriate.

The department says Congress gave it the authority under the Fiscal 2014 Defense Authorization Act to ready for nuclear arms control cuts mandated by the New START pact. The bilateral treaty with Russia requires each country by 2018 to cut fielded warheads to 1,550, and to reduce the number of long-range nuclear delivery vehicles each possesses to 700, with an additional 100 systems allowed in reserve.

The U.S. stockpile of approximately 450 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles is spread out evenly among Air Force bases headquartered in three states: Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. A reduction to a maximum of 420 ICBMs is anticipated under the treaty.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith last month informed the Tribune the environmental assessment was to be focused "on the effects of eliminating no more than 50 ICBM silos."

Lawmakers from the states housing the nuclear missiles hotly protested news of the environmental assessment when they got wind of it.

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