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Hearing: Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Leadership All Highlight Climate Change Risks to Military Readiness

SASC Force Readiness Hearing_2018_02_14

General Glenn Walters, USMC and General Stephen Wilson, USAF, during Senate Armed Services Committee hearing “Current Readiness of U.S. Forces,” Feb 14, 2018

Last Wednesday, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on “Current Readiness of the U.S. Forces,” senior leadership from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force all highlighted climate change-related risks to their respective military installations, and force readiness, in a very substantive and illuminating exchange with Senator Tim Kaine.

The Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Glenn Walters, and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran, both warned of serious sea level rise threats to critical Marine and Navy installations, citing a shared status as  “waterfront organizations.” Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General Stephen Wilson, and Army Vice Chief of Staff General James McConville, noted rising threats from forest fires, floods and hurricanes, including to energy resiliency across their bases. Below is both a summary and full transcript of those statements, as well as a link to the hearing video (exchange with Senator Kaine begins at 01:07:40).

Summary and Context

As first reported by Travis Tritten of the Washington Examiner, General Walters identified the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina (a central training location for the Marines), as the “most critical vulnerability” among Marine sites, noting that the construction of a seawall has to be considered in the future. That was his conclusion after having been briefed on the matter twice in eight months.

Admiral Moran stated that after receiving a Naval Academy briefing on sea level rise, which he described as “… a pretty stark demonstration of what could happen if we don’t take some action in the next 30 years to address that rise in water level,” he was convinced of the need for a “comprehensive look at all our bases.”

General Wilson focused on the natural disaster response missions the Air Force has conducted, including “using our C-130s” to help fight forest fires in California, as well as responding to floods and hurricanes in Texas and Florida. He also highlighted extreme weather threats to Air Force bases like Langley, and followed by stating that “everything we [the Air Force] look at in terms of infrastructure we have to look at through the lens of ‘how would I build and design infrastructure that would support changes in climate.'”

General McConville noted Army posts affected by hurricanes, fires and flooding, while stating that the Army is “building some resilience” through “public-private partnerships” with local communities to ensure energy resilience, such as at the Schoville Army Barracks.

Many of the installation and operational vulnerabilities identified during the hearing have been noted by the Department of Defense in past documents, and featured prominently in the Center for Climate and Security’s 2016 Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission, which included analysis of risks to high-value military infrastructure along the U.S. coastline, and abroad (an updated version of which will be released on February 26 of this year).

General Walters, Admiral Moran, General Wilson and General McConville join eight other senior defense leaders under this Administration that have highlighted climate change risks to the military mission, including Secretary of Defense Mattis, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Selva, Secretary of the Navy Spencer, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Lengyel, Assistant Secretary of Defense Niemeyer, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Phyllis Bayer, and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John Henderson.


Below is a full transcript of statements by Admiral Moran, General Walters, General Wilson and General McConville:

Admiral Moran, USN (01:09:35):

I attended a briefing by the Naval Academy here recently and they were looking out 30 years at the flood plains and the sea wall associated with the Chesapeake Bay and the Severn River. It was a pretty stark demonstration of what could happen if we don’t take some action in the next 30 years to address that rise in water level. As you know, General Walters and I, we share bases, pretty much waterfront property all over the world, so if the oceans are going to rise we’re going to be impacted everywhere. So, it does demand kind of a comprehensive look at all of our bases, especially in those areas that you already cited, in Hampton Roads, Florida, on the West Coast in San Diego, etc, so we are going to look at that very hard in the next several years.

General Walters, USMC: 

(01:10:43): Yes, Sir, we are a waterfront organization also. We have come to the conclusion that we’re not going to turn the tide, but we are looking at it closely. I’ve taken, in this job that I’m in right now, I’ve taken two briefs in the last eight months on what I consider our most critical vulnerability, and that’s Parris Island, South Carolina. Our logistics folks at I&L, our Deputy Commandant for I&L has done extensive work and studies, and projected out what’s the best case, what’s the worst case, and obviously there’s a big variance in there. But what I do know is that we’ll eventually have to bolster that. I’ve come to the conclusion in my own mind that it’s not today – we don’t have to build a sea wall today. But we have to consider one, and we’re monitoring it every day as we watch that. Because you remember that started out as a marsh and a little bit of an island. So marshes turn into seawater, and land turns into marsh.

(01:12:11): I guess my message, Senator, is I don’t believe it’s a crisis today. But it’s something that I think we as a nation have to watch over time, and we’ll have to make an adjustment because we’re not going to…you know, I don’t think we can…(Sen. Kaine iterjection: “pretend that it’s going away”)…Gen. Walters: that’s right.

General Wilson, USAF (01:12:28): 

This last year was a great example. So we were fighting [forest] fires in California and using our C-130s to help fight those. We did the floods here, the hurricanes both in Texas as well as Florida, and as the ones came up the East Coast affecting bases like Langley. So everything we look at in terms of infrastructure we have to look at through the lens of ‘how would I build and design infrastructure that would support changes in climate.’ I think that and energy resiliency across our bases to be able to – as the Army just talked about – partner with local communities because our bases are our power projection platforms. So we got to make sure they are energy resilient.

General McConville, USA (01:08:27): 

We look at some of the hazards that have happened over the last couple of…I mean, the hurricane. We had three major hurricanes. We have installations, camp post installations really in all those type [of] areas. So they certainly affects us. We got fires in certain parts of the country – that certainly affects where our post is. The flooding is certainly there. We are building some resilience. You know, an example right now – we are building, in partnership, at Schofield Barracks, a power plant in conjunction with the local area so, it’ll be used – we don’t necessarily need it – but if there’s a situation where the power goes out, we’ll have that capability, resilience. It’s a public-private partnership which I think is a good way to get after, and they seem very excited about that partnership that’s going on there…(Sen. Kaine interjection: ‘Excellent, so that’s a shared investment that’s being done by both DoD and the local community?) Gen McConville: It’s actually the community that’s actually paying for it, but we’re allowing them to use the land, and then if something happens where we lose power, we have first dibs on the power. And it’s on the grid right now, but if something happens serious, then we have the opportunity to use it.”

To watch the hearing, click here (exchange with Senator Kaine begins at 01:07:40)


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