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The New U.S. Department of Defense Leadership Team on Climate Security

Secretary Esper and General Milley

Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark A. Milley, USA

By John Conger

As the confirmation processes continue for both Mark Esper to become Secretary of Defense and General Mark A. Milley to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is worth exploring what these officials have said and done about climate security in general, or particular aspects of it, while they’ve been in their current positions running the Army – including most recently during the confirmation process.

First, as Secretary of the Army, Dr. Esper submitted to Congress a top ten list of his most climate-vulnerable bases, focusing mostly on drought and desertification, and committed to “work closely with other leaders throughout the Department of Defense and with Congress to identify corrective actions and implement steps to enhance our readiness and capability in the face of climate related threats.”

In addition, as both Esper and Milley testified before the House Armed Services Committee on April 2, 2019, Congressman Langevin asked them to comment on the impact that climate change has on military readiness.

Secretary Esper responded: “I’m not sure that I could say that it poses a threat to our readiness, but climate change is something we have to take into account as we consider our installations, our training ranges and how and where we may fight in the future.”

General Milley replied: “I would say the effects of climate change are things we have to consider at the strategic, operational, and tactical level and all of our military operations in the future.”

Finally, both Secretary Esper and General Milley responded to Advance Policy Questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of their confirmation hearings.  Each of them was asked to comment on the readiness and resource impacts of extreme weather.

Secretary Esper’s responses (pasted in full below) generally accepted the premise that extreme weather had a readiness impact and agreed that it was prudent to pursue resiliency at U.S. military bases.

General Milley’s answers to the Advance Policy Questions (also pasted in full below) provided more detail, noting the challenge posed by the cost of recovery from extreme weather events and the readiness disruptions during the recovery period while infrastructure is being rebuilt and critical facilities are unavailable.

When asked about improving the resiliency of U.S. military bases, he stated: “DoD faces a long-term threat from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased flooding at coastal locations. If confirmed, I will work with DoD’s many stake holders in support of ongoing DoD actions to implement appropriate planning and design standards that account for projected sea level rise and extreme weather events.”

Secretary Esper and General Milley joint a long list of at least 30 senior defense officials, during this Administration, that have highlighted the security risks of a changing climate, and the need to do something about it.

1. Advance Policy Questions and Answers: Secretary Esper

Readiness and Resource Impacts from Extreme Weather

In 2017, three hurricanes resulted in over $1.3 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. In 2018, extreme weather events caused roughly $9 billion in damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base. Hurricane season for 2019 already has begun.

How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DOD from recent extreme weather events?

        Secretary Esper: From my previous experience as the Army Secretary, severe weather events have had an impact on DoD’s ability to conduct training and operations at certain installations. It has been my experience that DoD assesses resilience holistically throughout the installation planning and basing processes. If confirmed, I would work with DoD leadership to ensure our planning considers extreme weather events.

Based on these readiness and resource impacts, do you believe it necessary to use more resilient designs in DOD infrastructure?

       Secretary Esper:  I do believe having more resilient designs for our facilities and infrastructure is prudent.

2. Advance Policy Questions and Answers: General Milley

Readiness and Resource Impacts from Extreme Weather

In 2017, three hurricanes resulted in over $1.3 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. In 2018, extreme weather events caused roughly $9 billion in damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base. Hurricane season for 2019 already has begun.

How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DoD from recent extreme weather events?

General Milley: The impacts are significant. Over $10 billion in two years creates a strain on our finite resources and forces us to make tough decisions if not supplemented with additional funding. Beyond the nominal cost, damages to infrastructure and delayed repairs also disrupted flight and ground training. It will take time to correct these training backlogs.

Based on these readiness and resource impacts, do you believe it necessary to use more resilient designs in DoD infrastructure?

General Milley: DoD faces a long-term threat from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased flooding at coastal locations. If confirmed, I will work with DoD’s many stake holders in support of ongoing DoD actions to implement appropriate planning and design standards that account for projected sea level rise and extreme weather events.

 


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