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U.S. Congress Addresses Climate Change and Security in the Latest Defense Bill

The_PentagonBy John Conger

A year after Congress declared climate change to be a direct threat to national security – a process that included a bipartisan vote on the House floor with dozens of Republicans joining Democrats to affirm the declaration – Congress passed a Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that reflects an acceptance of that consensus and an embrace of constructive measures to ensure the Department of Defense (DoD) is able to perform its missions under changing climate conditions.

With bipartisan support, Congress has produced a bill that accepts climate change as a given, takes significant steps forward to improve the resilience of DoD installations to climate change risks, and sets its sights on preparing to operate in a warming Arctic. 

Bracing for Change at DoD Installations

Last year, DoD was assigned the task of developing a list of the ten most vulnerable installations per military service. We can anticipate that list will be followed up by more in-depth adaptation plans at each location, but that report isn’t due until December of 2018.  In the meantime, Congress set to work changing the rules on how DoD manages its installations to improve climate resilience.  Key provisions include:

  • Floodplain requirements on new military construction (roughly $10 billion annually): Projects must identify whether they are in the 100-year floodplain, and if so, they must not only include mitigation plans, but be designed to assume an additional 2 feet above the base flood elevation (3 feet for mission critical facilities). This was originally a bipartisan stand-alone bill introduced by Senators Schatz, Moran, and Reed.  (Sec 2805)
  • Incorporation of changing environmental conditions into Unified Facilities Criteria (i.e. military construction design requirements). (Sec 2805)
  • Inclusion of energy and climate considerations into installation master plans (which govern how a base is laid out and where new construction will occur). (Sec 2805)
  • A formal definition of military installation resilience that includes resilience to changes in environmental conditions. (Sec 2805)
  • Authority to expend Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative funds to protect military installation resilience (Sec 312i)
  • Authority to spend economic adjustment funds to address military installation resilience. (Sec 2805)
  • Expanding Defense Access Roads authority to improve critical roads outside a base that are impacted by sea-level rise and recurrent flooding. (Sec 2865)
  • Added $48.4 million to the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (Sec 2403)

Finally, both the House and Senate strongly supported inclusion of a new Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program that allows DoD to invest directly in community infrastructure if it supports the military value, resilience or quality of life at a military installation.  While this isn’t specific to climate change, it certainly could be used to bolster the climate resilience of communities surrounding military bases, which in turn would improve the ability of those bases to deal with climate impacts. (Sec 2861)

A New Focus on the Melting Arctic

At the same time, Congress is paying increased attention to the security challenges posed by a warming Arctic.  With Arctic ice rapidly melting, there is already more traffic through the region and the prospect of increased resource extraction.  Key Arctic provisions in the NDAA include:

  • Requiring an updated Arctic Strategy by June 2019. (Sec 1071)
  • Incorporation of China’s Arctic activities into a new Strategy on China. (Sec 1261)
  • Authority to procure six new icebreakers for the Coast Guard, expressing the intent that they be in the inventory within 10 years. (Sec 151)
  • The bill provides $15.5 million for a replacement F-35 munitions maintenance facility at Eielson AFB, Alaska, as the existing facility suffered extensive damage from settlement caused by permafrost thaw. In response to this revelation, the Senate Report requires DoD to perform an assessment of all structures in permafrost regions to anticipate future building losses and to evaluate the adequacy of construction standards in these regions given anticipated warming.

UPDATE: The President signed the bill into law today at Fort Drum in New York state.

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