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Unpacking the Pentagon’s $3.1 Billion Climate Request

Rough seas pound the hull of Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Arctic as she sails alongside Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua A. Moore

By John Conger

On March 28, the U.S. Federal Budget request for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023) was released, officially kicking off the Congressional budget season and the ensuing posture testimonies, staffer briefs, and associated deep dives into the details of the budget.  With that first release, however, the Department of Defense (DoD) had not yet made available the budget details – instead providing just an information appetizer in the form of an overview slide deck.  The slides indicated that the DoD characterized $3.1 billion of its budget request as “climate investment” in four categories: Installation Resiliency and Adaptation ($2 billion); Science and Technology ($807 million); Operational Energy and Buying Power ($247 million); and Contingency Preparedness ($28 million).  These categories roughly line up with similar categories from FY2022 but represent significant increases in each.   The FY2022 budget identified $617 million in similar categories.  That said, while the categories remain the same, the contents are slightly different and it is hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison between the two.

As of April 21, however, the Pentagon has now released the first-ever detailed justification book on DoD climate spending that outlines these investments across 42 pages.  (If you want the one-page summary, you can look at page 4-17 of the Budget Request Overview.)  This provides the details and various accounts that indicate how the Department calculated the $3.1 billion.  

The key takeaway is that the $3.1 billion isn’t a distraction or a siphoning off of DoD funding from other priorities. Instead, it’s funding that supports and enhances DoD missions, ensuring the U.S. military will be able to perform its national defense mission in an environment increasingly disrupted by a rapidly-changing climate.  

In addition, it’s clear that the Department’s climate efforts are distributed among multiple programs, budget lines and offices across the military services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The military services prioritize and budget differently, and that makes it challenging to collect and present the overall climate story in a unified way. Moreover, while the $3.1 billion described is representative of the budgets and programs influenced by climate, it is not all inclusive. For example, the Deputy Secretary of Defense recently issued a memo prioritizing energy considerations in acquisition, but by no means are all acquisition programs incorporated here. Similarly, while all new infrastructure – built with updated and resilient building codes – will increase the ability of military bases to deal with climate change, very little of the Department’s military construction budget is included in its climate budget book.  

So, what’s included in the $3.1 billion? Here’s a breakdown.

  • Installation Resiliency and Adaptation ($2 billion)
    • The biggest single budget item in this section is $553 million for the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP).  It’s a big increase for this budget, and it’ll be focused particularly on microgrids, which will help bases manage their energy use when there are disruptions, and facilitate the management of solar arrays and battery systems installed on bases.  
    • This includes $114 million for climate impact planning and integrating resilience into installation master plans.  This is a Congressional requirement from FY20 that DoD has moved very slowly to implement.  Assessing the specific challenges at individual bases is absolutely necessary to determine place-based responses and to generate the next group of climate investments.
    • There are significant investments ($322 million) in improving the resilience of bases – this is a figure that can and should increase in the future based on the aforementioned and yet-to-be-produced resilience plans. Notably, it includes funding for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program.
    • There is funding for both purchases of renewable energy ($102 million) and for implementing renewable energy or energy efficiency ($296 million). This can improve resilience by reducing energy requirements and providing power when the grid is taken down by climate disasters, while also reducing emissions.  
    • A more tenuous inclusion is the $476 million for Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs).  ESPCs are contracts under which private companies invest in energy efficiency and are then paid back out of the savings.  The idea that those payments reflect climate investments – rather than simply indicating the payments being made based on what the increased energy bills would have been – seems an awkward fit here.
  • Operational Energy and Buying Power ($247 million)
    • The accounts within this section focus on improving existing systems. For example, it includes $76 million for energy efficiency gains on existing platforms – most of which is targeted to drag reduction for Air Force aircraft.  
    • This also includes $161 million for new electric and hybrid propulsion systems. The Army requests $52 million for hybrid and electric propulsion on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, which tracks with the Army Climate Strategy released earlier this year.   The Navy’s budget request includes $95 million for development of an electric drive system similar to the one on Zumwalt-class destroyers that can be integrated into other Navy ships.
  • Science and Technology ($807 million)
    • The three biggest subcategories within this account are $317 million for improving the energy efficiency of platforms, operations or installations; $178 million for energy efficient new platforms, and $148 million for electrification of vehicles, ships and airplanes.  The difference between these investments and the ones under operational energy is that these are focused on Research and Development vice procurement.  
    • Key programs within these categories are the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund ($143 million), the Operational Energy Prototyping Fund ($44 million), and the Environmental Science and Technology Certification Program ($39 million out of its overall budget).
    • A relatively small percentage of the funding ($66 million) is dedicated toward research in adaptation, with most of that funded through DARPA and includes efforts on atmospheric water extraction, bio-inspired coastal defense, and food and feedstocks on demand.
    • Other efforts of interest include renewable energy research ($38 million), energy storage ($31 million) and low carbon fuels ($7 million).
    • Finally, while it is a small portion of this overall investment, the request highlights $4 million for models that measure, model and anticipate climate impacts, reducing the likelihood of “surprise” impacts on DoD operations, and another $16 million for installation resilience modeling and demonstrations.
  • Contingency Preparedness ($27.6 million)
    • The smallest category in the justification book, this part of the budget request is primarily to fund modeling, simulation, wargames and exercises.  The pull-the-plug exercises conducted by DoD, where they cut off power to entire installations to ensure the back-up and contingency power systems work, are included in this figure.  
    • The exercises account also funds international engagement, to include the recently revived Defense Environmental International Cooperation (DEIC) program and $8 million for the combatant commands to fund climate and severe weather response exercises.
    • This also includes $6 million for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) and Defense Support for Civilian Authorities (DSCA).  The relatively small sum is not intended to fund response to unanticipated events – which is usually funded with emergency funds and involves much more cost – but instead is focused on developing best practices and new technologies to advance the field of disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

In conclusion, the fact that this climate justification book has been published is a very important signal.  Its very existence demonstrates emphasis. It represents a plan for FY2023 that is prudent, supportive of mission requirements, and builds toward key parts of the Department’s climate plans – both on resiliency and reducing emissions.  Is it enough?  That’s likely the wrong question. The amount that needs to be done exceeds the Defense Department’s ability to spend it all.  Are there gaps?  Absolutely. The most glaring one is the lack of military construction projects that build climate resilience – other than the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program. There will be projects developed as the Congressionally-mandated (in FY2020) installation resilience plans are written and the vulnerabilities of each base are identified.  Moreover, there are programs throughout the Department that will be influenced by climate considerations, even if they aren’t listed here. Is it a step in the right direction?  Yes. It most certainly is.

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