Feingold, Russ
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on the Project ELF Termination Act
Speech on the Senate Floor, January 7, 2003
Senator Feingold web page
Original Date
  • Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on the Project ELF Termination Act

From the Senate Floor

January 7, 2003

Mr. President, today I am reintroducing legislation that would terminate the operation of the Navy's Extremely Low Frequency communications system, Project ELF, which is located in Clam Lake, WI, and Republic, MI.

I would like to thank the senior Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. KOHL, and the Senator from Oregon, Mr. WYDEN, for cosponsoring this bill.

Project ELF is a Cold War relic that was designed to send short one-way messages to ballistic and attack submarines that are submerged in deep waters. The bill that I am introducing today would terminate operations at Project ELF, while maintaining the infrastructure in Wisconsin and Michigan in the event that a resumption in operations becomes necessary.

Project ELF is ineffective and unnecessary in the post-Cold War era. This antiquated system does not facilitate the rapid mobilization that our military says it needs to respond to current threats from weapons of mass destruction. The horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, emphasized the need for rapid, reliable two-way communications. Since ELF cannot transmit detailed messages, it serves as an expensive ``beeper'' system to tell submarines to come to the surface to receive messages from other sources, and the subs cannot send a return message to ELF in the event of an emergency. It takes ELF four minutes to send a three-letter message to a deeply submerged submarine.

With the end of the Cold War, Project ELF becomes harder and harder to justify. Our submarines no longer need to take that extra precaution against Soviet nuclear forces. They can now surface on a regular basis with less danger of detection or attack. They can also receive more complicated messages through very low frequency, VLF, radio waves or lengthier messages through satellite systems. Taxpayers should not be asked to continue to pay for what amounts to a beeper system that tells our submarines to come to the surface to receive orders from another, more sophisticated source.

Further, continued operation of this facility is opposed by most residents in my state. The members of the Wisconsin delegation have fought hard for years to close down Project ELF. I have introduced legislation during each Congress since taking office in 1993 to terminate it, and I have recommended it for closure to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Project ELF has had a turbulent history. Since the idea for ELF was first proposed in 1958, the project has been changed or canceled several times. Residents of Wisconsin have opposed ELF since its inception, but for years we were told that the national security considerations of the Cold War outweighed our concerns about this installation in our State. Ironically, this system became fully operational in 1989, the same year the tide of democracy began to sweep across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Now, fourteen years later, the hammer and sickle has fallen and the Russian submarine fleet is in disarray. But Project ELF still remains as a constant, expensive reminder to the people of my State that many at the Department of Defense remain focused on the past.

There also continue to be a number of public health and environmental concerns associated with Project ELF. For almost two decades, we have received inconclusive data on this project's effects on Wisconsin and Michigan residents. In 1984, a U.S. District Court ordered that ELF be shut down because the Navy paid inadequate attention to the system's possible health effects and violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Interestingly, that decision was overturned because U.S. national security, at the time, prevailed over public health and environmental concerns.

Numerous medical studies point to a possible link between exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and a variety of human health effects and abnormalities in both animal and plant species.

In 1999, after six years of research, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences released a report that did not prove conclusively a link between electromagnetic fields and cancer, but the report did not disprove it, either. Serious questions remain, and many of my constituents are rightly concerned about this issue.

In addition, I have heard from a number of dairy farmers who are convinced that the stray voltage associated with ELF transmitters has demonstrably reduced milk production. As we continue our efforts to return to a sustainable balanced federal budget, and as the Department of Defense continues to struggle to address readiness and other concerns, it is clear that outdated programs such as Project ELF should be closed down.