In response to military bases in several states still struggling with repairs after recent extreme weather events, House Democrats are calling for the Department of Defense to get serious about climate change.
Included in the House Armed Services Committee’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill is language requiring an overhaul of Defense Department plans for responding to weather vulnerabilities at bases across the globe. Supporters argue the debate isn’t just a philosophical fight but instead an issue directly affecting the safety of military equipment, housing and personnel.
Earlier this year, in response to past Congressional requests, military officials provided to lawmakers a list of 79 bases that could face potential environmental threats, promising to develop “comprehensive policy, guidance and tools to mitigate potential climate impacts.”
The report stated that “climate and environmental resilience efforts span all levels and lines of effort” and are a significant focus in installation maintenance and planning.
But numerous House Democrats said the response fell short of recognizing the wider climate threat, especially in light of billions in dollars of damage at bases in recent months.
Earlier this year, nearly one-third of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska was submerged by floods in the region. Bases in Florida, Nebraska and North Carolina are still making repairs from when Hurricane Michael made landfall last October.
The new bill language requires consideration of “potential adverse consequences of long-term changes in environmental conditions, such as increasingly frequent extreme weather events,” including the potential costs of such planning.
Measure sponsor Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he worries that military planners haven’t fully reacted to what the changing climate means for operations and readiness. Hotter temperatures mean more difficult mission conditions. More frequent severe storms mean more potential for destruction and injuries.
“You ignore this issue at the peril of our troops,” he said. “What we see happening is a convergence of climate change and national security. The evidence is overwhelming that our infrastructure isn’t ready.”
Along with the language in the budget policy bill, Crow is planning a series of public events in coming months to highlight how rising global temperatures could impact military roles and threats. Several fellow Democrats and environmental advocates have signed on. Crow is hopeful the readiness focus will draw bipartisan support.
“Data suggests that new and renovated buildings that included extreme weather mitigation measures generally fared better during Hurricanes Florence and Michael, providing an unfortunate real-world illustration of the benefits of planning for military installation climate resiliency,” the measure states.
Democrats on the House armed services panel are likely to adopt the climate change language in the authorization bill next week, but its fate is less secure in the Republican-controlled upper chamber.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he is skeptical of the idea because “the military is already doing that now. Bases all over are anticipating anything that may impair their ability to carry out their missions.”
Inhofe, a vocal climate change skeptic, said the military’s bigger readiness threat still comes from underfunding modernization priorities under President Barack Obama’s administration. When it comes to weather threats, “they already do a good job.”
Democrats have already outlined several other potential friction points for negotiations with Senate Republicans over the defense authorization bill, including nuclear weapons procurement and overall military spending totals.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department climate change report notes that they expect the number of threatened bases to increase in coming years. At least seven installations currently considered “safe” from flooding will likely face problems related to rising sea levels in the next few decades. Seven more not considered endangered by wildfires today are likely to face that issue in the future.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.