The Pentagon Previews Climate Adaptation Plan in Congressional Hearing

By John Conger

On July 14, 2021, the Readiness Subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee held a virtual hearing on the  installations and environment portfolios of the Department of Defense (DoD).  The witnesses were: Paul Cramer, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense (Sustainment); Jack Surash, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense (Installations, Energy and Environment); Todd Schafer, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations and Environment); and Jennifer Miller, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Energy, Installations, and Environment).  The hearing and the witness statements addressed a wide range of topics in this portfolio – to include climate resilience at DoD installations.

Note that each of these senior officials was Acting in their positions at the time of the hearing.  Each are senior civilian officials that are filling political jobs pending nomination and confirmation of political appointees in these roles.  Since this hearing, Meredith Berger has been confirmed as the Navy’s Assistant Secretary.  Rachel Jacobson is the pending nominee for the Army job.  No nominee has been announced for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) or Air Force roles.

The witnesses highlighted the significant challenges posed by climate change and described the efforts they are pursuing, but three exchanges are worth highlighting:

  • Cramer announced that the DoD’s Climate Adaptation Plan would be released by September 1.  He took the opportunity to preview the plan, noting that it would have five lines of effort:  Climate-Informed Decision Making, Train and Equip a Climate Ready Workforce, Resilience of Built and Natural Infrastructure, Supply Chain Resilience and Innovation, and Enhance Adaptation and Resilience through Collaboration.  By all indications, this will be a much more detailed and mature follow-on to DoD’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap released in 2014.  The new plan will include specific goals and metrics against which progress will be measured.
  • Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) asked for projections of sea level rise, rising temperatures, and Atlantic hurricane behavior, with an eye toward how each will impact the military mission going forward.  Hopefully, the Department will provide those projections with context – for example, inches of sea level rise will not be as instructive as the rising number of floods that impact operations on a given base; an average temperature increase may not be as instructive as the number of 90-plus degree days (which results in constrained training).  Chairman Garamendi requested a briefing to committee members on these projections in September.
  • Rep. Jason Crow (R-CO) highlighted the Department’s slow progress on developing Military Installation Resilience Plans and incorporating them into installation master plans, as required by the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.  These plans will be critical to identify the climate vulnerabilities of each installation and the resilience projects that will be necessary to minimize climate impacts on mission, and only one has been completed at any base to date.

Look for follow up reports from this blog on these items in the future – particularly the pending release of the DoD’s Climate Adaptation Plan.


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