Congressional Hearing on Resilience Highlights Climate Change Risks

By John Conger

On Friday, March 26, the Readiness Subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on resilience, which in recent years has become synonymous with climate change adaptation.  It was a remarkably substantive hearing, with senior representatives of the military services (LTG Douglas Gabram, Commander Army Installations Management Command; VADM Yancey Lindsey, Commander Navy Installations Command; MajGen Edward Banta, Commander Marine Corps Installations Command; and Brig Gen John Allen, Commander Air Force Civil Engineering Center) citing progress on a variety of fronts, listing actions at specific bases, and clearly communicating the seriousness of the resilience requirement in the face of climate change and the increasing impacts of extreme weather.  It was also clear, however, that they had a very long way to go.

Chairman Garamendi’s opening comments outlined the challenges to installations, actions that the committee has taken in recent years to focus attention on these challenges, and highlighted recent extreme weather events that have cost the Department billions of dollars. His bottom line was that we have made a decision – over decades – to take risks with our installations and infrastructure, but that the calculus needs to change.  Climate change is making business-as-usual a bad bet.  

Some key takeaways:

  • Climate change impacts are local issues. Most Members invoked their local bases when they spoke and presented the impacts of climate change through the lens of impacts and risks to their respective installations.
  • Newer facilities are more resilient to climate impacts.  Increasing investments and modernizing the infrastructure across the enterprise will decrease its vulnerability to extreme weather – even if that’s not the reason for the investments.  That said, Chairman Garamendi indicated he is looking for the Department to prioritize investments that specifically address resilience.
  • Climate resilience planning requirements are complex and overlapping.  Witnesses bounced between resilience plans, energy and water plans, and community resilience plans funded by the Office of Local Defense Cooperation (formerly the Office of Economic Adjustment).  Each are valuable and inform one another, and each will ultimately point the way toward required investments.
  • Climate change is part of the lexicon.  In fairness, senior military leaders in recent years have often discussed climate change, even though the previous Administration held a skeptical view.  In 2020, the Secretary of the Army issued a new climate change policy, for example, which required climate change to be taken into consideration when determining installation investments.  The witnesses in this hearing invoked climate change multiple times both during opening statements and during the hearing.

Overall, though, it’s clear that climate resilience is an extremely active area at the Department of Defense, and Congress is going to continue its active role in overseeing their work.

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