Altered Pentagon climate change report spurs bipartisan action from lawmakers

In a letter, over 40 representatives called on Defense Secretary Mattis to acknowledge the impact of climate change on military sites.

Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying over Newport, Volvo Ocean Race, Rhode Island, May 8, 2018. CREDIT: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying over Newport, Volvo Ocean Race, Rhode Island, May 8, 2018. CREDIT: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

More than 40 lawmakers have penned a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis requesting both that mentions of climate change in military reports remain intact and that strategic defense plans acknowledge the effects of climate change on national security.

In a letter quietly released last week, a bipartisan group of representatives called on Mattis to take immediate action to preserve climate reporting in national security plans. Pointing to a May report from the Washington Post, lawmakers expressed concerns over revelations that the Pentagon had revised an Obama-era report to remove references to climate change.

“While we appreciate the need to update reports when it is appropriate and necessary, we are disturbed that the revisions may have intentionally targeted mentions of climate change,” reads the letter, dated July 16. “The facts are clear: climate change poses a threat to the Department and the nation.”

The letter includes signatures from Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus Elise Stefanik (NY), Carlos Curbelo (FL), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) along with Democrats Paul Tonko (NY) and Jackie Speier (CA), who are not members of the caucus.


The Post found that a Defense Department report submitted to Congress in January differed from a previous draft December 2016 version that emphasized climate change. The submitted version of the report removed multiple references to the threat that climate impacts, including sea level rise, pose to military sites and bases around the world. In some areas, allusions to human-driven climate change were altered to simply reference “extreme weather” or “climate” as a stand-alone word.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned that such actions may imperil national security. Through the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress acknowledged climate change as a serious security threat, and mandated a report on the top 10 most at-risk military bases and how to protect them. The July 16 letter accordingly asks that the final report be delivered in compliance with the mandate laid out by the NDAA.

“We expect that when this report is delivered to Congress later this year, it will contain candid assessments in line with the clear instructions passed by Congress and signed into law by the President,” the letter reads.

Other signatories to the letter include Reps. James Langevin (D-RI); Adam Smith (D-WA); Ted Deutch (D-FL); Gerald Connolly (D-VA); Derek Kilmer (D-WA); Scott Peters (D-CA); Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA); Jackie Speier (D-CA); Steve Knight (R-CA); Dave Reichert (R-WA); Steve Cohen (D-TN); John Katko (R-NY); Ryan Costello (R-PA); Mimi Walters (R-CA); Julia Brownley (D-CA); Seth Moulton (D-MA); Matt Cartwright (D-PA); Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); Bill Foster (D-IL); Jamie Raskin (D-MD); Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI); William Keating (D-MA); John Faso (R-NY); Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); Thomas Suozzi (D-NY); Salud Carbajal (D-CA); Jerry McNerney (D-CA); Donald McEachin (D-VA); Jimmy Panetta (D-CA); Anthony Brown (D-MD); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Denny Heck (D-WA); Rick Larsen (D-WA); Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI); Niki Tsongas (D-MA); Alan Lowenthal (D-CA); John Garamendi (D-CA); John Delaney (D-MD); and Betty McCollum (DFL-MN).

The edited Pentagon study submitted to Congress in January found that climate-related risks are imperiling half of all U.S. military sites globally. According to the Pentagon, approximately 1,700 sites, which range in size and significance, are at risk from drought, flooding, and wind. While the submitted report never once explicitly names climate change, an entire section deals with the implications “a changing climate” hold for national security issues.


That report interviewed military personnel at each site who attested to the impact of climate change on water and energy systems, in addition to airfields and other key military assets.

Those findings notably flew in the face of much of President Trump’s rhetoric at the time of their release. The president removed climate change from a list of national security threats last December, going against the advice of military leaders.

A separate study paid for by the military and published in April found that more than a thousand low-lying tropical islands could become “uninhabitable” within the next few decades due to both sea level rise. The Pentagon reportedly backed the study to learn more about military installation vulnerabilities on tropical islands, like the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands.

Defense Secretary Mattis has previously acknowledged the threats posed by climate change and pushed for sustainable adaptation measures where feasible. The Defense Department has yet to publicly respond to lawmakers regarding the letter sent last week.

This article has been updated to reflect the number of lawmakers signed on to the letter.