The U.S. Navy is developing a plan to shield its installations from damage caused by climate change, its prospective next leader told senators on Tuesday morning.
“We are largely a waterfront service, so climate change, when there’s rising waters, are going to be a problem for us if we don’t address them,” said Adm. Bill Moran, who has been nominated to be the next Chief of Naval Operations. “So we are in a planning stage to look how to reinforce those areas.”
Moran is just the latest senior naval leader to warn about the threat of rising seas and extreme weather. In just the past decade, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard has been battered by nine major floods. The Marine Corps is currently asking for $3.6 billion to repair three North Carolina installations, including Camp Lejeune, walloped by Hurricane Florence last year. (And the Air Force is seeking $5 billion to repair flood and wind damage to two bases of its own.)
He was joined on Tuesday by Lt. Gen. David Berger, who is up for Marine Corps Commandant.
“The two biggest challenges are the rising water levels and severe storms that roll up the coast and through our bases and stations,” Berger said.
But lawmakers did not press for details of that planning from either Moran or Berger, who were appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of their confirmation process.
In January, the Pentagon released a Congressionally mandated report on the challenges posed by climate change that included a brief overview of the department’s policy responses to those challenges. But critics were quick to point out gaps in the report, including the fact that it omitted Marine Corps bases from its list of “mission assurance priority” bases — including Lejeune. House lawmakers told the Pentagon leaders to revise the report and submit it again.
Berger pointed to new military construction standards designed to stand up to extreme weather events as “absolutely critical.”
“When we recover from a storm like we are now in North Carolina, we need to look at the location of the buildings, we need to look at the construction standards of the buildings to make sure that they’ll survive what the climate is gonna throw at them,” he told lawmakers.
Although military experts have long warned of the risks to American military efforts posed by extreme weather, President Trump and other members of the Republican Party have repeatedly denied the scientific consensus about climate change. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., brandished a February snowball as proof that the Earth is not warming. Longtime climate denier Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” that he wouldn’t count climate change “in the top five” of national security threats faced by the United States “because I can count to five that gets you to things that present more risks to the people I used to represent in Kansas and citizens all across America.”
Broadly, it was smooth sailing for both of Trump’s nominees on Tuesday morning. In a signal of bipartisan support from the committee, Moran was introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle aired concerns about a Navy proposal to mothball the aircraft carrier USS Truman. [Just hours later, Vice President Mike Pence told sailors aboard the Truman at Norfolk Naval Station that the Trump administration was rejecting the proposal.]
At the morning’s hearing, lawmakers all insisted that the issue will be discussed during upcoming debate over the annual defense policy bill — not treated as a roadblock to either nominee’s confirmation.
Kaine called the move “a head-scratcher.”
“When we have strategic discussions either in this setting or classified, we’re often told that especially in the INDOPACOM area that our carriers are one of the most important parts of our arsenal,” Kaine said. “So when we have that briefing on the strategic side and then we see a budget that proposes to move towards not refueling the Truman, I think there’s a lot of questions on both sides of the aisle in the committee.”
Moran defended the move as a strategic decision intended to help fund a new generation of unmanned ships, “spreading the offense out over a greater playing field.” But pressed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Moran said, “We wouldn’t decline more money” if Congress were to fund both the new, unmanned program and refueling the Truman.
Still, Moran added, “to the earlier question about [a continuing resolution] and sequestration, we have a mindful eye that that’s on the horizon. If you added money, I think we’d have to be very careful about how that money was allocated.”
There is no official timeline yet for a Senate floor vote on either nominee, according to a committee spokesman.