October 30, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Thank You, Madame Chairwoman

This week the Senate’s version of the climate bill (pdf) received a series of hearings in the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The bill (S. 1733, commonly known as the Kerry-Boxer bill) was both praised and criticized by a variety of witnesses and panelists from industry, think tanks, and government agencies and departments.

In an earlier post this week, my colleague Amanda discussed the first day of testimony during which Senator John Kerry testified on the detrimental effects of climate change on U.S. national security. But the most important panel for natural security purposes was the second panel on Wednesday which specifically addressed the national security consequences of continued global climate change. The first to testify was retired Senator John Warner (pdf) who spoke of “the mutually-reinforcing goals of energy security, national security and climate security,” a subject that often seemed lost in the debate between senators and panelists. It is impossible to talk about energy security without talking about climate change because some of the alternatives to imported oil can exacerbate the effects of climate change. Warner’s testimony reinforced the connection between these issues, as did the testimony of witnesses such as Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (USN, ret) (pdf) and Kathleen Hicks (pdf), the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces.

Naturally there were dissenters. Major General Robert H. Scales (USA, ret) and Dr. James Jay Carafano both offered pointed attacks on the proposed legislation. Scales disagreed with the idea that humanitarian disasters would cause enough tension to lead to interstate war. Meanwhile both panelists seemed to believe that humanity would adapt as it has throughout history. Dr. Carafano argued that the series of interactions between humanity and the climate was too complex to properly analyze and we should focus on short-term benefits. Senator Boxer responded to Carafano’s point by arguing that inaction was not the best policy with so much at stake.

The Kerry-Boxer bill is not the first time climate change has fomented Congressional controversy. For example, the U.S. Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol to limit emissions. And in 2007, several groups of senators introduced individual climate bills, with various outside groups praising or damning the legislation. It almost seems that if you want to find out who your friends and enemies are in Congress, you need only introduce a climate bill and watch the battle lines being drawn. But never before have proponents of a climate bill made such explicit linkages to national security in promoting their legislation.

In other legislative news this week, President Obama signed the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act. A brief overview of the bill reveals interesting natural security-related items of interest. For example the bill contains sections mandating preferences for hybrid vehicles on DOD installations (sec. 2922g); feasibility studies for nuclear power plants on military bases (sec. 2845); new reporting requirements for energy efficiency programs (sec. 332); mandated reports on the progress of fuel-demand management at forward-deployed locations (sec. 333); a mandated report on how to use renewable fuels for DOD needs (sec. 334); and a mandated report on the supply chain vulnerabilities of rare earth elements for DOD use (sec. 843). All of this is very interesting for us, and we hope to post more on the implications of some of these provisions soon.