Trump OKs bill with climate risks, calls coal indestructible

Source: By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The defense bill signed by President Trump yesterday shows that the military is planning to meet the threat of climate change.

The legislation helps the U.S. military plan for sea-level rise, thawing permafrost and an Arctic with less sea ice cover. It also identifies a path for new icebreaker ships to increase Arctic access and addresses the actions of other countries, such as China, that are intent on exploiting newly available oil and gas reserves. Future military bases will be planned with climate change in mind.

Yesterday, Trump traveled to Fort Drum outside Syracuse, N.Y., to sign the $716 billion National Defense Authorization Act for 2019. The bill passed the House and Senate earlier this summer and provides funding for the military to provide broader protection from the threat of climate change.

Trump has called global warming a hoax and promoted fossil fuels. After signing the bill yesterday, Trump said that “in a military way, coal is indestructible. You can blow up a pipeline, you can blow up the windmills — boom, boom, boom.”

The legislation shows that Congress is taking climate threats more seriously than the White House, said David Titley, former chief operating officer of NOAA and the founding director of Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.

“There has been a very substantial, almost shift in roles between the Congress and the executive branch in the last two years on the issue of climate as a security issue,” he said. “And I’m sure politics has something to do with it, but also I think there is an increasing realization by members on both sides of the aisle that climate and the failure to prepare for the changes in climate does impact our security; it impacts the ability for our bases and our training ranges to operate; it also impacts the ability of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to best perform their job when they go downrange.”

The president appeared with two Republican members of Congress during his trip to New York. Both are members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), who has cast doubt on established climate science and who praised Trump’s exit from the Paris climate agreement, joined the president at a fundraiser. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has pushed for more conservatives to engage on climate policy, appeared with Trump at Fort Drum for the bill signing.

Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers raised concerns after the Department of Defense stripped references to climate change in a report on the vulnerability of military installations to rising sea levels and extreme weather. In July, 34 Democrats and 10 Republicans cited the omission in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“While we appreciate the need to update reports when it is appropriate and necessary, we are disturbed that the revisions may have intentionally targeted mentions of climate change,” they wrote. “The facts are clear: climate change poses a threat to the Department and the nation.”

Mattis recognizes the dangers of climate change and said during his confirmation hearings that he would “address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources and readiness.” Earlier this year, the Pentagon released a report that found about half of U.S. military sites around the world are threatened by extreme weather.

The defense bill focuses on preparing for a changing Arctic, where warming has increased access to a once-remote region and where thawing permafrost has the potential to weaken some structures. It provides $15.5 million for an F-35 munitions maintenance facility damaged by shifting permafrost at the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. It also requires the military to examine all structures that may face similar risks, and it authorized construction of six icebreakers for the Coast Guard, with a goal of having them in use within the decade.

The bill requires military planners to prepare for climate change, in part by building projects 2 or 3 feet above the 100-year floodplain. It also allows the military to pay for upgrades to local roads near bases that could be damaged by extreme storms, rising sea levels or other perils.

Environmental groups applauded the bill.

It “provides a valuable and badly needed example of bicameral, bipartisan leadership on energy and climate resilience and by doing so, on how we can use federal taxpayer dollars wisely,” Shana Udvardy of the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog analyzing the spending plan. “Hopefully, Congress will continue to move the needle on flood and climate readiness to ensure our communities and military are more resilient to extreme weather events and climate change.”

The legislation shows that members of Congress, including a number of Republicans, are not willing to dismiss climate concerns, Titley said.

“What we’re seeing is a quiet alignment,” he said. “There is an increasing realization by members on both sides of the aisle that climate and the failure to prepare for it does impact our security.”