By John Conger
The House Armed Services Committee bore public witness to the growing consensus between Democrats and Republicans on supporting the military’s response to climate change, during a Readiness Subcommittee hearing titled “Ensuring Resiliency of Military Installations and Operations in Response to Climate Changes.”
Chairman Garamendi’s opening statement outlined a series of concerns:
Just this last year Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused billions of dollars in damage to Camp Lejeune and leveled much of Tyndall Air Force Base. California wildfires led to the evacuation of family housing at Camp Pendleton, Naval Air Station Point Mugu, and the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. In addition, our coastal installations and their surrounding communities are already experiencing significant flooding due to sea-level rise. The Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific is threatened by sea level rise and may not last 20 years. The Navy’s principal Atlantic Base Norfolk/Hampton Rhodes and the Naval Academy are already experiencing flooding. Melting polar ice in Arctic regions has already opened new sea routes and competition for resources, yet it appears that DOD has not developed a systematic strategy for ensuring U.S. national interests in the Arctic.
The witnesses were Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (Ret), Senior Member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board, Professor at Penn State University, and former Oceanographer and Navigator of the U.S. Navy; Sharon Burke, Senior Advisor to New America, who previously served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy; and Nicolas Loris, a Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at the Heritage Foundation (will link to their written testimonies once they are posted). Each of these three witnesses made the case that climate change is impacting infrastructure and operations, that bolstering military resilience to these impacts is important and pragmatic, and that Congress should pursue and fund these efforts.
The members themselves repeatedly made reference to the bipartisan progress the committee has made over the last two years, with the Ranking Member, Congressman Lamborn, listing several resilience measures passed when the Republicans held the majority. We agree, and wrote about this last year when Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. As Rear Admiral Titley stated in the hearing: “Climate change is a readiness issue. It is not a partisan or political issue or a desire to appear green.”
Member questions addressed a wide range of topics, including the importance of energy resilience on bases, the planning needed by DoD to prepare for climate impacts, resilience of installations to local risks – whether they be hurricanes, wildfires or tornadoes, the need to anticipate climate change impacts and develop projects well in advance, the criticality of new military construction investments since older facilities are less resilient to disasters, the impacts of climate change on training, and taking the impact of climate change into account in basing decisions.
In addition to resilience, the witnesses discussed the fact that Russia and China were exerting increasing influence over the Arctic region given the receding ice, that countering their influence aligns with the National Defense Strategy, and noting that we could have a whole hearing devoted to this topic.
There were also discussions about energy. Even in that space, the witnesses each pointed out that energy use should be driven by mission considerations, that energy efficiency and military resilience are important goals, and that mission-focused R&D on energy was worthwhile. Some members of the committee made reference to partisan disagreements on a biofuel program from many years ago, but for the most part, there was “violent agreement” on the panel. Such bipartisan agreement is rare these days, but it points the way to a more forward-leaning approach to the security risks of a changing climate.