Peters Questions Mattis on Removal of Climate Change from Key Vulnerability Assessment
New Report Shows Pentagon Removed Findings on Impacts of Climate Change to Military Installations
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) joined a group of 21 Senators in calling on Defense Secretary James Mattis to release the unpublished draft of a January 2018 assessment on the vulnerability of U.S. military installations and explain why references to climate change were removed. This follows a report that the Department of Defense revised the assessment by removing references to climate change and key findings on the risks from sea level rise.
“These are substantive, not stylistic, changes—and it is not the way we expect DoD to conduct business,” the Senators wrote. “If DoD is not publishing data that it collects from our installations because they do not fit a particular political narrative, the department is failing to let the science inform its understanding of how changes in the environment may pose a risk to the ability to train our forces, the safety of our facilities and service members, and the long-term readiness of our military.”
In the past, the Department of Defense has been very clear that climate change is a national security threat. In July of 2015, the Department of Defense released a report that said global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries. In April, a study funded by the Department of Defense found that rising sea levels could make low-lying tropical islands – such as the Marshall Islands, which is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site – “uninhabitable” by the middle of the century.
The changes in the report follow a pattern of suppressing facts about climate change and clean energy. A report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative found that the Environmental Protection Agency removed references to climate change and clean energy from its website. Another report found the Bureau of Land Management had done the same, scrubbing mentions about the importance of climate change mitigation from its website. And this week, the Trump Administration ended NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, a research project aimed at tracking the world’s carbon and methane pollution output, which are primary contributors to climate change.
Joining Peters on the letter to Secretary Mattis are U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Full text of the letter can be found below and here:
Dear Secretary Mattis,
We are writing regarding a report published in the Washington Post on May 10, 2018 (“Pentagon revised Obama-era report to remove risks from climate change”) alleging that the Department of Defense (DoD) amended its January 2018 Screening Level Vulnerability Assessment Survey (SLVAS) Report by omitting information from an internal draft dated December 2016.
According to excerpts of the internal draft published by the Washington Post, the final report omitted survey results that senior DoD officials asked military installations to report regarding their vulnerability to an increase in mean sea level. It also removed findings about how climate change is affecting the operating environment in the Arctic and the potential risks to DoD’s ability to conduct training and testing activities that are essential to military readiness. These are substantive, not stylistic, changes—and it is not the way we expect DoD to conduct business.
In general, the department conducts fair and transparent briefings, and its data collection and reliance on science is clear-eyed and robust. When it comes to installation and environment matters, DoD does a lot that we are pleased about. For example, it draws on science to establish conservation easements around installations that protects them from commercial and residential encroachment—preserving the ability to conduct home station training without posing a risk to the public.
That is why we are deeply troubled by the Washington Post’s reporting. If DoD is not publishing data that it collects from our installations because they do not fit a particular political narrative, the department is failing to let the science inform its understanding of how changes in the environment may pose a risk to the ability to train our forces, the safety of our facilities and service members, and the long-term readiness of our military. In light of these allegations, we respectfully ask that you:
- Provide a complete copy of the draft December 2016 SLVAS referenced in the Washington Post; and
- Determine what changes were made from the draft to the final report published in January 2018, who specifically made those changes, and why.
We appreciate your prompt attention to this request for information and look forward to your response not later than Friday, May 18, 2018.
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