By John Conger
On Wednesday, December 12, the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William Moran, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Committee is clearly very sensitive to the impacts that climate change have had – and will have – on our military installations.
Several excerpts from the hearing are highlighted below, but here’s the takeaway: Not only is it going to cost a lot of money to recover from Hurricanes Florence and Michael (reported to be $3.6 billion and $5 billion respectively), we’re going to need to start building our facilities with climate resilience in mind.
Commandant Neller points out that simply repairing the damage would cost $2.2 billion, but rebuilding in a way that improves resilience to the next hurricane would cost $3.6 billion. Senator Kaine observes that it would be “foolish to repair a building that would then be vulnerable to the same kind of damage in the next hurricane that comes along.” General Neller sums up the discussion stating, “We’re going to have to start addressing this so we do this correctly and spend the money correctly.”
Senator Kaine highlighted the issue in his opening comments:
“An additional concern I have about infrastructure, especially just following the fall that we’ve been through, is climate change. Hurricane Florence did significant damage to North Carolina and the cost at Lejeune to the Marine Corps could be significant. This is not an Air Force hearing, but Tyndall in Florida also suffered significantly and so there will be cost connected with it. The GAO recently found, DOD acknowledges that the potential impacts of weather effects associated with climate change pose operational and budgetary risk to our military installations.” We’re seeing examples of that.
Notably, the FY 18 NDAA required DOD to report on vulnerabilities to installations from climate related events, could be hurricane, could be flooding, could be drought depending upon the part of the country wildfires. Including the top 10 most vulnerable installations in each military service, the report is due this month and I will as both the Navy and Marine Corps for their top 10 today, either for verbal testimony or testimony for the record. I’m not expecting each of you to pound the table about debating about climate change and the causes of it, but we do need to know coming up with the NDAA and prepping for it for next year what we need to build into deal with those vulnerabilities.”
The interest was bi-partisan, and the Senators are clearly aware there will be significant costs associated with recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Senator Sullivan’s exchange with General Neller follows:
Sullivan: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and–and I appreciate the witnesses joining this joint committee today. General Neller, I want to ask you it’s been nearly 3 months since hurricane Florence made landfall at North Carolina. Have you have the opportunity to assess the order of magnitude to the impacts of Camp Lejeune and the challenges we see there?
Neller: Yes, sir. We have.
Sullivan: And what are the numbers? Do you have numbers?
Neller: So Camp Lejeune is not as dramatic when you look at it with your own eyes as what happened on the panhandle in Florida. The storm was very slow-moving, there was a lot of wind but it’s on the top of the base and it rained for two or three days. So a lot of the buildings that Camp Lejeune are very old, they suffered roof damage, exterior damage, and then when that happened the water got inside and so you end up with mold and other things. And so there was a effect on housing, which we’re working with a private vendor for them to fix that and they are making some progress, not as fast as we would like, but they are making progress. On the facilities and structures for us, if you were to repair it, it would be one number but if you were to take the buildings that we would consider to be not worth the cost of just repair but they need to be rebuilt, the total bill comes to about $3.6 billion.
Senator Kaine followed up on this line of questioning when he had the opportunity:
Kaine: Well, expect to get asked questions like this a lot at future hearings. We really want to see how those are being used, all of you. General Neller, I was struck by your cost on the repair of Lejeune that you put it around $2.2. Is that right, $2.2 billion?
Neller: Actually, at the high end, if we cost it out because we don’t believe it’s cost-effective, senator, to repair buildings that are 35 to 50 years old.
Neller: So, if you replace these 31 buildings–there’s actually more, but these ones we—
Neller: –We put at the priority, the bill’s around $3.6, $3.7 billion.
Kaine: It would also be the case that would be foolish to repair a building that would then be vulnerable to the same kind of damage in the next hurricane that comes along.
Neller: I would agree with that.
Kaine: Right, so we really ought to be probably be looking at the higher cost. The Tyndall price tag’s about $5 billion, as I understand it. That’s not the purpose of this hearing. But talk to me about this top 10 list. The–in the Navy/Marine side, there’s a report due pursuant to the NDAA this month about sort of the top 10 installations that you feel are–have–have vulnerabilities because of climate. When are we likely to see that report?
Neller: Senator, that should be forthcoming soon. I will get back to you on the exact date. I mean, I’ve seen the list, and I don’t know where the process is in actually finalizing it and signing it out to you.
But not surprisingly, it’s going to be what you might expect in the Navy. It’s going to be oceanfront areas, water rising issues. It’s going to be areas exposed to what we’ve seen now as hundred year storms that come every two or three years. We’re going to have to start addressing this so we do this correctly and spend the money correctly.
Kaine: We had a very well attended hearing in Hampton Roads now nearly 2 years ago, very bipartisan Congressional delegation talking about sea level rise and the effect on Norfolk and other bases, Langley and others in the area. And it was pretty sobering, and we started thinking about, if there’s a future BRAC round or any kind of, you know, physical base rationalization, that’s got to be a vulnerability that people would be concerned about.
But one of the DoD witnesses said you should worry about sea level rise but try running a base in an area where there is a persistent drought. It’s not just sea level rise. It’s–it is–there’s all kinds of weather emergencies and challenges that all of the services are dealing with on the climate side. And we look forward to that report because it’ll help us do our job better when we get to NDAA and appropriations.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Wicker: Thank you, Senator Kaine. And we certainly ought to be able to deal with issues like that apart from any BRAC round we might have.