The national security case for funding the EPA
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With a multibillion-dollar warship at his back, last week President Trump spoke in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region to declare his intention to dramatically increase military spending in the federal budget. But to do so, the president and Congress would have to cut from other agencies essential to our national security, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Making our nation’s military the strongest in the world requires not just funding channeled through the Pentagon but through agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, which would bear the brunt of these cuts. 

Ships, planes and other military equipment are crucial to our global defense dominance. But our military, the most effective fighting force in the world, also needs world-class military bases and strong communities.

In the Hampton Roads region, where the president delivered his speech, our military efforts are already being affected by rising seas, storm surges and coastal erosion that threaten our critical infrastructure. A combination of sinking land surface and climate change has made the region, referred to once as “the greatest concentration of military might in the world,” experience the most rapid sea-level rise on the Atlantic Coast. Already, flooding from storms disrupts base operations and damages critical infrastructure. The Department of Defense is well-aware of the threat of climate change to DOD facilities including Naval Station Norfolk, and is working with the community, including environmental regulators, to stem the tide of this threat.

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And it’s not just Norfolk — extreme weather throughout the country threatens military readiness. The U.S. military needs to work with communities to develop plans and practices to operate in a changing world facing rising seas and higher temperatures, and needs actionable data to make informed choices.

 

Additionally, often overlooked — but of vital importance — is the military’s global reach in times of humanitarian crises, increasingly those made more fierce or frequent by climate change. As proud as the services are to help those in need, every lethal typhoon or famine-inducing drought makes us all the more aware of the cost of extreme weather.

While one doesn’t normally think of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as having a role in national security, ensuring the Tidewater region can support military installations and thousands of personnel ready to deploy at a moment’s notice requires clean water supplies, reliable training ground, energy innovation and safe communities. Along with other national and subnational government agencies, the EPA is working on a strategy to ensure the region is protected.

Yet under the White House’s rumored budget, funding for EPA and The Department of Energy, particularly their climate change programs, would be dramatically cut. Slashing EPA’s budget will hurt our ability to win the next fight. Our military bases and training areas must provide clean air and water for our forces and their families. They need the science supported by the EPA, by Energy, by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and other researchers to understand how a changing climate is affecting the health of our troops, their ability to deploy to hotter and hotter climates, and how to ensure our military families are not exposed to dangerous substances.  

During my service in the Defense Department, I personally enlisted the support of EPA and local environmental regulators, not to green the military but to ensure our military could continue to perform its essential missions. 

To see U.S. national security purely through the lens of Department of Defense funding is to miss the broader picture. The world’s strongest military needs cooperation across government agencies, and funding to do so. 

Referencing another agency’s key work, Secretary of Defense James Mattis once said, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition."

National security experts understand that our ability to fight wars depends not just on the largest ship but on a government that supports every aspect of military readiness. That’s something this new administration, and Congress, should get behind. 

 

Sherri Goodman is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense, 1993-2001, and a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.


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