Friday, June 24, 2016

Why the GOP Is Trying to Stop the Pentagon's Climate Plan

Andrew Holland (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
In Washington, big agencies rarely get high marks for innovation and foresight.  But when it comes to coping with climate change, the largest federal agency—the Pentagon—has taken a spot in the vanguard.  As far as back as the George W. Bush administration, the Defense Department was warning that global warming posed a threat to U.S. national security, and that the military needed to be preparing accordingly.

This year it went further, laying out a new game plan that assigns specific top officials the jobs of figuring out how climate change should shape everything from weapons acquisition to personnel training.

Last week, however, House Republicans voted to block it.  By a 216-205 vote Thursday, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the department from spending money to put its new plan into effect.  Not a single Democrat voted for the amendment, which was attached to the defense spending bill.  It’s the second time in just a few weeks that the House GOP has tried to halt the Pentagon’s climate policies; a similar measure attached to the House’s defense authorization bill, which also received no Democratic votes, passed in May.

Supporters of the amendment say it’s necessary to ensure the Department of Defense doesn’t lose focus on the biggest threat facing the U.S. today—the Islamic State.  But critics say the provisions, if they became law, would dangerously tie the hands of the Defense Department as it prepares for future threats.  (The Senate’s version of the bill doesn’t block the plan; whether the amendment will survive conference is unclear.)

“It’s actually crazy to me, and it should be crazy to anyone in the military, that Congress is telling them not to do this,” said Andrew Holland, the senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project.

“This is what we ask our military and national security people to do, to think long-term, look at emerging threats, figure out ways to protect against these threats,” he said.

DOD officials have been warning for years that climate change could have dire consequences on U.S. national security. Increased refugee flows, which are already straining Europe, are likely to accelerate as the climate heats up and have the potential to destabilize large swaths of the world, including the Middle East and South Pacific.  The “oil wars” of the 20th century could give way to “water wars,” with countries competing for scarce natural resources.  Higher energy costs may further strain the military’s budget and rising water levels could force the DOD to adjust locations of critical infrastructure facilities like ports.

The Department of Defense’s Directive 4715.21, released in mid-January in accordance with Obama’s 2013 executive order requiring government agencies to prepare for climate change, received little coverage when it was first published.  At just 12 pages, it isn’t especially long.  But according to military and climate experts, it’s a critical step toward streamlining how different offices prepare for climate change, including designating specific officials to attend to specific tasks. The assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment is named as DOD’s “primary climate change adaption official” and charged with building infrastructure that will accommodate warming temperatures.  The assistant secretary of defense for acquisition is responsible for ensuring weapons systems and equipment acquisitions are adapted for changing weather patterns.  Another official is charged with drawing up plans for future disasters resulting from climate change, from offering humanitarian assistance to preparing for new conflicts.

“While this thing looks pretty innocuous, it has the potential to be pretty important,” said David Titley, a retired rear admiral who spent 32 years in the military and is the founding director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University.  He compared it to the Department of Defense’s quadrennial security review, which sets out top-level defense policy.  The review is “such high level, it's like ‘OK, we like motherhood and apple pie.’  Great, what do I do?  The DOD [climate] directive gets pretty specific.”

Read more at Why the GOP Is Trying to Stop the Pentagon's Climate Plan

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