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Lawmakers tell Pentagon: Revise and resubmit your climate-change report

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Desdemona Despair

By Paulina Glass
5 February 2019

(Defense One) – The Pentagon’s latest climate-change report was so bad that it didn’t even meet legal requirements, say House lawmakers who on Wednesday ordered the military to redo the document by 1 April 2019.

The report “lacks key deliverables,” according to the 25 January 2019 letter from House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. released last week.

The Pentagon’s 2019 climate report opens with the line: “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”

But the report goes downhill from there, said David Titley, the Navy meteorologist-turned-Penn State professor.

“The highlight of the report was the first sentence of the opening paragraph where it did clearly state that climate change was one of the risks the DOD needs to be concerned about,” Titley said. “That’s about as good as I can say.”

The report, “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense,” released four weeks late on 16 January 2019, was required by the Langevin Amendment, part of the 2018 Defense Authorization Act.

Spearheaded by Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., the bill ordered the Pentagon to list the top 10 military installations most vulnerable to climate change, mitigations needed to maintain resiliency, and the potential effects on DOD missions.

Titley, a former Oceanographer of the Navy who now teaches  Pennsylvania State University, said he would have awarded DOD between a C- and a D+. “If you assign a 1,500-word essay, sometimes students will just put down 1,500 words. It doesn’t mean they answered the question,” he said.

Langevin and Smith, who serve on the House Armed Services Committee, blasted the report soon after its release.

“It is unacceptable that the Department has ignored the clear instructions provided by law, and it is unacceptable that our service members and readiness will suffer as a result,” Langevin said in a statement.

John Conger, a former DOD deputy comptroller who now directs the Center for Climate and Security, said the assignment was clear, and had been written to help DOD address the issues climate change presented.

“I think Congress was looking for specific analysis that would help them prioritize resources and then try and look at where to direct investments and resilience,” Conger said. “This report is less helpful in doing that than they intended it to be.”

In the report, which DOD said cost $329,000 to produce, Pentagon officials looked at whether 79 bases were currently experiencing or might in the future experience five natural phenomena: recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. It also described efforts to mitigate threats, listing studies commissioned on wildfire risk in 2014 in sensors that determine subsurface ice levels at northern bases.

But critics said the report left out a lot of required elements. For example, it mentions Tyndall Air Force Base, which was decimated by Hurricane Michael in 2018, but does not evaluate its climate risk. The 79 bases include no overseas bases, nor any that belong to the Marine Corps. Most striking to Conger was the absence of the list of the top 10 most vulnerable installations, a list specifically requested in the amendment.

“Even if they thought it would be too difficult to do, they don’t explain why they didn’t answer the question,” he said. “There are gaps.” [more]

Lawmakers Tell Pentagon: Revise and Resubmit Your Climate-Change Report

By Steven Silverberg
21 January 2019

(Silverberg Zalantis LLP) – Last week the Department of Defense (“DOD”) released a report concerning the impacts of climate change on 79 of its installations, as well as DOD operations. The report found increasing effects from sea level rise, wild fires and other aspects of climate change.

The Military Departments noted the presence or not of current and potential vulnerabilities to each installation over the next 20 years, selecting from the events listed below. Note that the congressional request established the 20-year timeframe.

Climate-Related Events

  • Recurrent Flooding
  • Drought
  • Desertification
  • Wildfires
  • Thawing Permafrost

Some of the issues related to sea level rise and flood include:

Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE-Langley AFB), Virginia, has experienced 14 inches in sea level rise since 1930 due to localized land subsidence and sea level rise. Flooding at JBLE- Langley, with a mean sea level elevation of three feet, has become more frequent and severe.

Navy Base Coronado experiences isolated and flash flooding during tropical storm events, particularly in El Niño years. Upland Special Areas are subject to flash floods. The main installation reports worsening sea level rise and storm surge impacts that include access limitations and other logistic related impairments.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Report notes significant incidents of drought since the early 2000s.

Specific to military readiness, droughts can have broad implications for base infrastructure, impair testing activities, and along with increased temperature, can increase the number of black flag day prohibitions for testing and training. Drought can contribute to heat- related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, outlined by the U.S. Army Public Health Center. Energy consumption may increase to provide additional cooling for facilities.

Several DoD sites in the DC area (including Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, Joint Base Andrews, U.S. Naval Observatory/Naval Support Facility, and Washington Navy Yard) periodically experienced drought conditions – extreme in 2002 and severe from 2002 through 2018. In addition, Naval Air Station Key West experienced drought in 2015 and 2011, ranging from extreme to severe, respectively. These examples highlight that drought conditions may occur in places not typically perceived as drought regions.

Drought conditions have caused significant reduction in soil moisture at several Air Force bases resulting in deep or wide cracks in the soil, at times leading to ruptured utility lines and cracked road surfaces.

The report also notes increasing incidents of wildfires that impair DOD operations.

Due to routine training and testing activities that are significant ignition sources, wildfires are a constant concern on many military installations. As a result, the DoD spends considerable resources on claims, asset loss, and suppression activities due to wildfire. While fire is a key ecological process with benefits for both sound land management and military capability development, other climatic factors including increased wind and drought can lead to an increased severity of wildfire activity. This could result in infrastructure and testing/training impacts.

The report goes on to discuss many other impacts of climate change on operations of the DOD, including humanitarian responses, rescue efforts in the Arctic region. [more]

Defense Department Report on Effects of Climate Change


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