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The U.S. Congress Overrode Trump Veto on FY21 NDAA: Here are the Climate Security Highlights in the Bill

By John Conger

On January 1, the U.S. Senate voted to override Mr. Trump’s veto of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an 81-13 vote.  A few days earlier, the House voted 322-87 to override the veto.  It is worth noting that the Statement of Administration Policy, which lists Mr. Trump’s objections to the bill, did not express opposition to any of its climate provisions.

This bill continues the trend we’ve seen in recent years of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees passing pragmatic climate security legislation without making it a political issue.  In this bill, for example, Congress directs the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a strategy to follow up on its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, essentially asking for a plan to climate proof the DoD.  Given the signals the incoming Biden Administration has sent, there is every reason to expect it to develop an ambitious plan in response.  It also continues the trend of expanding resilience authorities by granting broad authority to fund projects that improve the climate resilience of DoD installations – even when located on private land.  (For those readers unfamiliar with the nuances of DoD funding, this is a big deal… and it’s important because climate change doesn’t recognize fence lines and sometimes the actions you need to take are outside the base.)

Below, please see a longer enumeration of climate security highlights from the bill (plus, see here for a blog post we published in advance of conference): 

  • Requirement to update the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (very similar to the plan called for in the Climate Security Plan for America). This requirement provides an opportunity to the DoD leadership to outline its climate security plans and strategy and to lay out actions and metrics for the coming years.  (Sec 327)
  • Authorization for the DoD to fund projects that improve military installation climate resilience even when they are outside the borders of the installation or on land the DoD does not control. (Sec 315)
  • Establishment of a National Academies Climate Security Roundtable, to create a mechanism for climate science stakeholders to provide information to the Climate Security Advisory Council which was established within the Intelligence Community in last year’s bill. Recall that the CSAC was inspired by the IC-based Climate Security Crisis Watch Center the Center for Climate and Security called for in the CSPA.  (Sec 1622)
  • Direction to the US Coast Guard to assess its vulnerabilities and to, among other requirements, identify the ten sites most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This requirement echoes the requirement passed for DoD in the Fiscal Year 2018 NDAA. (House Sec 8250)
  • Requirement to improve water management and security on military installations, a challenge that will only increase over time with climate change. (House Sec 2827)
  • Requirement for an assessment of the impact of permafrost thaw on DoD assets and operations. (Conference Report language)
  • An assessment building upon DoD’s 2018 vulnerability report that would focus exclusively on extreme weather vulnerability of installations and combatant commander requirements. (Conference Report language)
  • Elevation of military installation resilience as an evaluation factor in awarding Defense Community Infrastructure Program funds (Sec 2882)
  • Creation of an Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations & Environment) which would increase the focus on the climate resilience of installations. (Sec 904)

Looking back over the past four years, it is clear that while Mr. Trump has been skeptical of climate change, and the White House has been very hostile to it, legislation that would prepare the military for the effects of climate change has not been met with any discernible resistance.  Congress has enacted significant provisions that directed development of strategies, required assessments of climate vulnerabilities and the associated planning in response, expanded authorities of existing programs to incorporate climate and improved building codes and other guidance.  The Biden Administration has already made a range of commitments to move far more aggressively on climate security, however, and it will be fascinating to see what progress this new year will bring.

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