The Rocky Road to Climate Accountability at the Pentagon

In the ever-shifting landscape of Washington politics, a noteworthy narrative is unfolding—one that hinges on the interplay between climate change, national security, and fiscal responsibility. At the heart of this story is the Pentagon and its efforts to integrate climate risk management into its strategic framework. At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we’ve documented the growing costs of climate change to taxpayers and national security, so we know how important it is for the Pentagon to reckon with these risks. Unfortunately, Congress is still wedded to a more traditional approach—willful, if not so blissful, ignorance. 

The debate centers around the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council’s proposal, a common sense rule change requiring major Pentagon suppliers to report their greenhouse gas emissions and set emissions reduction targets. It’s not just environmental bookkeeping; it’s about understanding and mitigating the serious risks climate change poses to our military supply chains, the arteries that keep our military operational. 

By leveraging the immense purchasing power of the Pentagon, this policy is a cost-effective way to reduce the threats and future liabilities of climate change. It’s the kind of foresight that embodies the best of government spending: impactful, efficient, and forward-thinking. 

However, this commendable goal has met with resistance in Congress. The recently released conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 includes a provision permanently exempting “nontraditional defense contractors” from the reporting requirements outlined in the FAR Council’s proposed rule, and delaying any implementation of the rule for at least a year. The exemption is a problem, and the delay is potentially fatal to the rule. 

While “nontraditional defense contractors” sounds like a few odd companies that do not typically work with the Pentagon, in reality it includes some of the nation’s largest corporations. In recent years, the Pentagon has shown interest in working with nontraditional providers, including large commercial companies, to access unique products and alternative approaches to design, production, and sustainment. Large industrial companies like General Motors, which are re-entering the military market after a long absence, may also be considered nontraditional suppliers. Amazon and Microsoft are also in this category. So, the argument that these companies are somehow less equipped to provide these climate reports doesn’t hold water.

But the bottom line is the climate doesn’t react differently to emissions from nontraditional defense contractors, so neither should the Pentagon. 

As for the delay, there’s no reasonable case that the largest Pentagon contractors need a year to meet the FAR rule’s requirements. We all know that kicking the can is the tried-and-true way to kill something without getting your fingerprints on the weapon. And in the interim, Congress is blindfolding and hog-tying the Pentagon: blinding it to growing risks to its supply chains and preventing it from taking urgent steps to mitigate those risks. The original language in the Senate, proposed by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), would have delayed implementation for two years instead of one, but while a one-year delay means the rule could take effect before the next Congress takes office, it still achieves a similar purpose, as it could give the current Congress time to legislate further impediments to its implementation in the coming year. 

Call us old-fashioned, but we think the Pentagon should be commended, not hog-tied, for pursuing some basic climate accountability and action. The FAR climate rule sends a clear message that environmental stewardship and national security are not mutually exclusive but are, in fact, deeply interconnected. Opposing this and similar proposals represents a head-in-the-sand approach to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Climate change is not a distant threat but a current reality, impacting everything from global stability to the operational effectiveness of our armed forces. Ignoring supply chain risks also increases risks to those in uniform serving our country. 

While we recognize the limitations of the current legislative landscape, we remain optimistic. The Council’s proposal represents a significant step forward. This is a prime example of how strategic government spending can drive meaningful change. But for the rule to take effect, Congress must give the Pentagon the latitude it needs to protect national security and taxpayers from the threats of our shifting climate. 

Source : The Hill


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